Cancer survival rates still vary across the country

Patient receiving chemotherapy
Image caption Better cancer drugs are one reason for the survival improvements

Despite significant improvements in cancer survival rates across England, regional differences remain, national statistics show.

Overall, survival improved by as much as 10 percentage points for some cancers between 1991 and 2006.

But the difference between areas with the lowest and highest rates was just as wide.

The Department of Health stressed earlier diagnosis was key.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) looked at figures from England's 28 cancer networks.

They showed that one-and five year survival rates from cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, colon, lung, and in woman, breast cancer, improved by three to 10 percentage points during 2001-06.

This was compared to those diagnosed during 1991-95.

But researchers also noted a difference of over 10 percentage points between the networks with the highest and lowest one-year survival for cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, colon and in women, lung cancer, in 2001-06.

North-south divide

The ONS stressed that it was not possible to produce a list of the best and worst networks - but its data show that the southern areas regularly outperform some northern ones.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Although these results show that survival rates for most cancers have improved, there continues to be a clear North South divide.

"We have been clear that more needs to be done to improve survival outcomes for patients across England and our aim is to match the best survival rates in Europe.

"Earlier diagnosis is crucial to this. Everyone should be alert to the signs and symptoms of cancer - such as weight loss, persistent pain and lumps and bumps and visit their GP immediately if they have concerns.

"Despite significant improvements in cancer survival rates across England, regional differences remain, national statistics show.

Catherine Thomson, head of statistical information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is one of the most detailed investigations so far to compare overall cancer survival rates across the whole of England.

"These figures are encouraging and reinforce previous ones showing that in general cancer survival rates have significantly improved over the past forty years.

"But this study also flags up certain areas, particularly those in the North of England and those which are generally deprived, that are consistently falling short of the national average.

"Late diagnosis of cancer could help explain some of this North-South divide and why the poorer areas tend to do worse. This could help highlight where efforts to promote early diagnosis could be best targeted to help save lives."

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