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Largest worldwide study on cancer survival rates reveals dramatic differences – Germany among the leading countries worldwide

No. 59c | 27/11/2014 | by Sel

In a study called CONCORD-2, around 500 international scientists report on 5-year survival rates for about 25.7 million adult cancer patients suffering from one of the ten most common types of cancer (stomach, colon, rectum, liver, lung, breast, cervix, ovaries, prostate, leukemia) as well as for approximately 75,000 children who were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) between 1995 and 2009. In the study, the scientists drew on data from 279 cancer registries in 67 countries. It was analyzed using a method called period analysis, developed by Hermann Brenner from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg. This method delivers more up-to-date data on long-term survival than the rates obtained by conventional methods. The study was published in the journal “Lancet”.

© Walter Reich,

The scientists noted major differences in survival rates in various countries for specific cancer types. This also held true after taking into account regional differences in life expectancy due to other factors such as the age, gender or race of subjects in the study. Above all, they identified remarkable variations in 5-year survival rates for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: Rates ranged from 16-50% in countries such as Jordan, Lesotho, Tunisia, Indonesia, and Mongolia to over 90% in Canada, Austria, Belgium, Germany and Norway. In their report the scientists state that this shows large deficits in the management of a disease for which in fact there are effective treatments. ALL is the most common type of cancer in children.

“Germany has become one of the countries with the highest survival rates for other types of cancer as well,” Brenner says. “For example, five-year survival for bowel cancer victims has risen to well over 60%, up from approximately 50% in the 1990s. But the figures for this type of cancer could even be better if more people took advantage of cancer screening programs.” Survival rates have also significantly improved for liver cancer, from 6.5% in the 1990s to 14.4% today, as well as for lung cancer, for which survival rates have risen from 11.6% to 16.2%.

Nevertheless, of the 10 cancer types considered in the current study, cancers of the liver and lung still have the poorest prognosis worldwide, with 5-year-survival rates below 20% both in developing countries and industrial nations. These types of cancer frequently go undetected until they have reached an advanced stage in which effective treatment is often no longer possible. Although survival rates have also improved by up to 10% in countries such as China, Israel, Japan and Korea, they remain below 10% even in the United Kingdom and some other parts of Europe.

The current analysis also shows that 5-year survival for breast and bowel cancers has improved in most industrial countries and in South America. The researchers attribute this to earlier diagnosis and improved strategies for treatment. For patients diagnosed with colon cancer, the highest survival rates are found in Israel and Ecuador (68%); Qatar, Cyprus and Iceland for rectal cancer (70%); and Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Israel, Japan, the U.S.A. and a number of European countries for breast cancer (85% and more). Among European countries, Iceland has the highest survival rates for colon and rectal cancer patients; France and Finland have the best results for breast cancer (87%). Russia has the poorest survival rates in Europe for all three cancer types. In Germany, 85% of all women with breast cancer survive the disease for more than five years. By contrast, only 64% of women affected by cervical cancer survived the 5-year mark during the time period under investigation.

Five-year survival rates for stomach cancer patients were highest in Japan and Korea (54 and 58%, respectively), while survival rates in Europe are often below 20%. According to the scientists, this is due to earlier diagnosis and more radical surgical methods that are common in these countries.

Figures for Germany:

The study evaluated data from 36,511,217 people, corresponding to 43.89% of the population. From this sample, 1,367,345 individuals were diagnosed with one of the 10 cancer types under investigation in the time period from 1995 to 2009.

The following list indicates five-year survival rates from 1995-1999 / 2004-2005 (in terms of percentages):

Breast: 81.2 / 85.3
Cervix: 64.7 / 64.9
Ovaries: 37.7 / 39.7
Prostate: 77.1 / 91.2
Leukemia: 42.9 / 53.6
Lung: 11.6 /16.2
Liver: 6.5 / 14.4
Rectum: 51.9 / 62.1
Colon: 48.7 / 64.6
Stomach: 22.8 / 31.6
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (children under 14 years of age): 86.7 / 91.8

With more than 3,000 employees, the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is Germany’s largest biomedical research institute. DKFZ scientists identify cancer risk factors, investigate how cancer progresses and develop new cancer prevention strategies. They are also developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to questions relating to cancer.

To transfer promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improve the prognosis of cancer patients, the DKFZ cooperates with excellent research institutions and university hospitals throughout Germany:

  • National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT, 6 sites)
  • German Cancer Consortium (DKTK, 8 sites)
  • Hopp Children's Cancer Center (KiTZ) Heidelberg
  • Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON Mainz) - A Helmholtz Institute of the DKFZ
  • DKFZ-Hector Cancer Institute at the University Medical Center Mannheim
  • National Cancer Prevention Center (jointly with German Cancer Aid)
The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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