Hearing the news this morning it would appear that, if you live in Sweden and develop lung cancer, you’ll live forever. The BBC website says: “A study by a team at King’s College London, and published in Thorax, finds that despite similar health spending, Swedes have almost double the survival rate after five years with the disease.” I can hear the political jibes now – “isn’t the NHS dreadful?”, “why can’t we do as well as Sweden?” and so on.
If you have a look at the King’s College website and check their publicity it points out that, five years after diagnosis, 6.5% of British men are still alive, whereas the figure in Sweden is 11.3% . Hence the “twice as many Swedes survive” headline. Nearly 90% of the Swedes don’t. It’s a terrible disease, and is not easily curable in Sweden, or anywhere else.
The leader of the study, Professor Holmberg, is quoted on the King’s website: “The data shows that patients in England are less likely to be actively treated with surgery and drugs than their Scandinavian counterparts. This may be because symptom awareness is poor in England, and patients delay seeking medical help, so that by the time they do, their disease is already advanced and beyond curative treatment.”
He goes on: “the number of diagnoses and deaths from lung cancer in England has plummeted since the 1970s, and that the prevalence of smoking – a key risk factor for lung cancer – is higher in the UK than it is in either Norway or Sweden.”
And then: “’However, we cannot exclude that differences in treatment activity – related or not to other co-existing illnesses, play a role.” Which is where the story comes from.
Truly it has been said, science journalism in Britain is very good, until it gets onto the front page, when it becomes appalling. Lung cancer is caused primarily by smoking, and countries with more smokers have more cases. I hope that’s what I would say if interviewed on the Today Programme.