Data indicates that the UK is still behind its European counterparts in treating cancer / Getty Images

Macmillan Cancer released figures showing that UK still behind countries such as Austria on cancer survival rates

British cancer patients are “dying needlessly” as the UK continues to lag behind European counterparts in medical treatment, a top charity executive claimed today.

According to new analysis cancer survival rates are a decade behind those of some European nations, as spending on research is not followed through to treatment.

Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says: “This analysis exposes the harsh reality that because UK cancer survival rates are lagging so far behind the rest of Europe, people are dying needlessly. Frankly, this is shameful.”

The analysis comes amid news that Aysha King, a five-year-old diagnosed with a brain tumour whose disappearance last year sparked an international manhunt, is reportedly expected to make a full recovery having been taken to Spain for treatment.

The case provoked a wide-ranging discussion on patient rights and the different treatments available on the NHS.

Only one in ten British lung cancer patients survive for five years after diagnosis, a level already achieved by much of western Europe in the 1990s – and half that of Austrian rates of 18 per cent today.

Finland, German, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway all recorded better survival rates for lung cancer in the 1990s than British rates today.

Between 1995 and 1999 55 per cent of those diagnosed with bowel cancer in Sweden survived, a level which has subsequently risen to 63 per cent. The UK still languishes below the Swedish rate on 54 per cent. 

Mrs Thomas, discussing the disparity in the statistics said: “What we can see here is that better cancer survival rates are not unachievable. If countries like Sweden, France, Finland and Austria can achieve these rates, then the UK can and should bridge the gap.”

Even in areas of cancer treatment where the majority of UK patients survive, Britain still falls behind its European counterparts.

Breast cancer has a five-year survival rate of 81 per cent, below that of France in the 1990s (84 per cent) – a lead which has only increased as 87 per cent of French patients now survive for five years.

The data, released by Macmillan, comes from an international group of researchers published in The Lancet.

The charity’s director of research Fran Woodard said: “There’s a bit of a feeling in this country that we’ve spent a lot on cancer and it’s all OK now.”

She told The Times that although the figures did show that the UK was improving, “the European best is also improving so the gap is still there.”

More people than ever before are being diagnosed with cancer, up from one in four in 1975 to four in ten by 2010.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee published earlier this month claimed that the government was at risk of losing “momentum in the drive to improve cancer services in the last two years.”

It also cautioned that although more people were being diagnosed with cancer, the resources available had decreased.

The findings and warnings from charitable chiefs were rebutted by a Department of Health spokesperson, who noted that the government has pledged to invest £750million over five years to support early diagnosis and improve access to testing and treatment, and claimed survival rates were at “an all time high”.

“Thanks to a focus on earlier diagnosis, prioritising the latest radiotherapy treatments and ensuring better access to care, we are on track to save a projected 12,000 more lives this year,” they told the Guardian.