Cancer sufferers living longer, study shows

Danes with cancer are surviving longer, but questions remain whether the 8.7 billion kroner invested in cancer treatment in the past decade has made a significant impact

People diagnosed with cancer survive for longer with the disease, a new study by cancer research organisation Kræftens Bekæmpelse has found.

Survival rates have increased over the past decade, with 72 percent of men and 75 percent of women surviving their first year with cancer – an increase of 10 percent and 5 percent respectively.

Hans Storm, medical advisor with Kræftens Bekæmpelse, welcomed the results.

“We have seen a noticeable improvement in survival rates since we introduced the first cancer treatment plan in 2000,” Storm told Politiken newspaper. “We are mostly seeing an improvement in cancers which can be treated with surgery and not with those which rely on chemotherapy.”

According to Storm, the improving survival rates can be attributed to investments made in cancer diagnosis as well the decision to provide better treatment at fewer, more specialised, locations across the country.

The combination of these two mean that cancer is detected earlier. The smaller tumors are easier to remove for experienced surgeons, which gives patients better chances of survival.

The biggest improvements have been seen in cancers of the head and neck, oesophagus, stomach and intestinal cancer. Survival rates for people with the notoriously deadly pancreatic cancer is also improving, with 23 percent of sufferers now expected to live a year after diagnosis, twice as long as just a few years ago.

The numbers do not give an indication of whether more patients are being cured, however, according to Torben Palshof, chairman of the Danske Multidiscplinære Cancergrupper – an organisation representing specialists treating a total of 32 different forms of cancer.

“We still don’t know, however, how many more patients are actually being cured of their illness because of the plan,” Palshof said. “We probably won’t know until 2015 because the most recent cancer treatment plan only seriously got started in 2009 and as a rule of thumb you only talk of a cure if a cancer patient has survived five years without a regression.”

But while Palshof is urging caution, weekly science publication Ingeniøren revealed earlier this month that according to its own figures, mortality has so far only been reduced by 1.7 percent.

The government has invested enormously in cancer treatment since the year 2000, with a total of 8.7 billion kroner being invested in three separate packages. And according to Jacob Kjellberg from the publicly- funded health research organisation Dansk Sundhedsinstitut, a 1.7 percent decrease in mortality was a poor result given the amount of money that had been spent.

“It is unfortunate that we cannot see the effect of such a large investment,” Kjellberg told Ingeniøren. “But we can hope that the effect will show itself later. Otherwise we have to ask whether the money is being correctly invested.”

Responding to criticism that the money had not significantly improved treatment, Bent Hansen, chairman of  Danske Regioner – the national association of regional councils, which oversees health investments – said treatment was on the right track.

“It is correct that we have yet to reach our target, which is reaching the same survival rates as abroad, but we are on our way,” Hansen told Ingeniøren. “But the rate of illness is still developing in the wrong direction. So we need to treat more patients with a higher quality of care while at the same time spreading the word about prevention.”

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