Cancer survival rates up

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CANCER survival rates in Sheffield have increased by more than a fifth in 14 years – with patients being seen more quickly for treatment and being referred to specialists straightaway.

More than 68 of every 100 cancer patients aged 15 and over in Sheffield will survive for at least a year after diagnosis, a rise of 20.4 per cent since the mid-1990s.

The improvement means the city has risen from being one of the worst-performing of 14 places in Yorkshire and the Humber to one of the best. But elsewhere in South Yorkshire, although there have been improvements to survival rates in Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster, the three boroughs still lag behind most other areas and are among the region’s worst-performing authorities.

Barnsley, where 63.3 out of 100 cancer patients will live for a year after diagnosis, is the worst of all 14 regional locations. In 1996, it was third-worst.

Doncaster is second-worst, with 63.7 of every 100 people surviving for a year. The town was fifth-worst in 1996.

And in Rotherham nearly 65 out of 100 cancer patients will live for a year after diagnosis. The town was the worst-performing of 14 regional locations in 1996, and latest figures now place it fourth-worst.

The figures, released by the Office of National Statistics, compare a 14-year period and look at the proportion of adults aged 15 to 99 who have survived at least a year after diagnosis.

In 1996 Sheffield’s survival rate was the sixth worst of 14 areas in Yorkshire and the Humber - but by 2009 the city was the third best performing area in the region with a rate of 68.3 per cent.

North Yorkshire, the best performing area, was only 0.7 places ahead at 69 per cent.

Nationally, 66.5 per cent of cancer patients live for a year after diagnosis.

Dr Jeremy Wight, Sheffield’s director of public health, attributed the city’s success to ‘world-class cancer treatment facilities’.

But he added: “There is still obviously scope for further improvement, with over 30 per cent of people still dying within a year of diagnosis.”

He said a combination of factors, including better patient awareness and better treatment, was responsible for the rise.

And Dr Wight said two major changes have had a significant effect since he first worked in the city.

He said: “We had an initiative introduced in 1999 where every suspected cancer patient was to be seen by a specialist within two weeks and which has continued.

“The second was to get people seen by a specialist. In the past a breast cancer patient could be seen by a number of different surgeons, whereas now they will automatically go to a breast cancer surgeon straight away to receive the best possible treatment as quickly as possible.”

But he added the NHS still faces a challenge to bring down the number of people getting cancer in the first place, by changing lifestyles such as reducing smoking and obesity.

Patricia Fisher, clinical director for oncology at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust, which runs Weston Park cancer hospital, added: “It is excellent to see that one-year survival has improved in all areas and particularly good to see Sheffield has seen a dramatic improvement with one-year survival rates now better than the national average.

“The improvements have resulted from a combination of factors including GPs referring patients up to hospital specialists to be seen within two weeks.

“The organisation of cancer services in hospitals has also evolved over time and now all cancer patients are managed by teams that are experts in their field, supported by clinical nurse specialists working very closely with both the patient and the medical team.

“There have also been big improvements in diagnostic scans, in surgical and anaesthetic techniques and in chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments.”

Survival rates in numbers

Sheffield 1996 - 56.7 per cent

Sheffield 2009 - 68.3 per cent

Improvement: 20.4 per cent

Rotherham 1996 - 54.7 per cent

Rotherham 2009 - 64.8 per cent

Improvement: 18.4 per cent

Barnsley 1996 - 55.9 per cent

Barnsley 2009 - 63.3 per cent

Improvement: 13.2 per cent

Doncaster 1996 - 57.5 per cent

Doncaster 2009 - 63.7 per cent

Improvement: 10.7 per cent