Eurocare 4

Chris Woollams, Founder CANCERactive

5 Year Survival. What EUROCARE-4 really tells us

A tug in the right direction.

ReportA number of years ago in the EUROCARE-3 cancer study, England had overall 5-year cancer survival figures below the average for Europe. Nor was there any improvement when you looked at individual cancers: England was below the average for all countries and 10 points worse than the best (Sweden) for breast cancer; and a massive 30 points worse than the best (Austria) for Prostate cancer. Following these dreadful results, the UK Department of Health convened meetings and committees to draw up a battle plan to improve – it was called the National Cancer Plan.

So now we have the latest study, EUROCARE-4, has it worked?

Let me quote from the Editorial (Leading Edge) in September 2007’s Lancet Oncology:

The short answer is seemingly, no.

Overall survival for all cancers combined in the UK as a whole is not only below the European average, it is also noticeably similar to some Eastern European Countries that spend less than one third of the UK’s per capita healthcare budget.

The reports show survival for gastric, colorectal, lung, breast, ovarian and prostate cancer in England is lower than the European average, and in some cases among the lowest in Europe.

While supporters of the National Cancer Plan may claim it is early days yet, or that (correctly) cancer treatment has improved in the last seven years, the bald fact is that England has only increased at the same rate as the other countries and has come nowhere near to narrowing the gap that existed.

Are we steering the wrong course?

The Lancet Oncology poses a number of questions one of which we find particular important – especially since we have been asking much the same question for almost 5 years now:

Why does the UK’s substantial research contribution not correlate directly with improved outcomes?

Is there is a very simple answer to this? Maybe this research programme is fundamentally flawed. Maybe we are researching the wrong things? Spending yet more money on a tanker that is going in the wrong direction, is still not going to get you to the desired destination. When you are off course, you need to turn the boat, not fill it with more fuel. 

As regular readers will know I have written on this topic before. I was particularly horrified when we interviewed a previous head of Cancer Research UK and asked him his aims, only to be told that one of these was: ‘To get more people in the UK in to clinical trials than anywhere else in the world’. We already have almost four times the number of patients in clinical trials as there are in the USA as it is, even though per capita you would expect the reverse.

In my humble opinion, drug research is the over-fed bull in our pagan belief on cancer in the UK; the randomised clinical trial the alter for the sacrifice.

Ignorance, embarrassment or vested interests?

Even the mighty Lancet has posed the question, “Why does our definition of science still seem to include only the laboratory experiment and the clinical trial?’  I remember being at a conference with Professor Peto who commented from the stage that all the drug trials were actually getting in the way of clever oncologists who would prefer to be studying their new ideas of beating cancer. But unfortunately in the UK there are companies paying for drug researchers – and nobody to pay for the clever alternatives. 

The world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas has already stated a few years ago that, ‘All the interesting developments in cancer are coming in areas outside of chemotherapy’.

The Russians develop non-toxic agents for Photo Dynamic Therapy and we all but ignore them. The Swiss develop herbal Prostate treatments that work and we query the research. The Japanese develop Ultrasound instead of surgery and it takes 7 years and 61 centres in Europe before we begin to even contemplate a trial for prostate patients (even though 5-year survival is reported at 87.7 per cent, against our EUROCARE-3 figure of 54.7 per cent).

We pooh-pooh vitamins, herbs and supplements ad nauseam. Our ‘top cancer experts’ go in the press to decry dietary changes and improvements as part of an overall cancer therapy package talking, as if knowledgably, about their limitations. Yet how many have even been trained in nutrition?

Chakra colours

How many have been trained in issues of ‘Mental State’, body energy systems and cancer? Yet there is strong scientific evidence that shows depression is linked to lowered blood oxygen levels and an increased risk of cancer; that high cortisol levels induced by stress can be linked to cancer too. What action do our experts think is appropriate? Do they know the benefits of certain foods, omega 3 and exercise in reducing depression? Or that yoga reduces cortisol levels in the body by almost 50 per cent, no matter if it is your first ever class? Do they realise that The National Cancer Institute in the USA has a section on its Government sponsored web pages on ‘Energy Medicine’ – including the benefits of Reiki and Tai Chi for cancer patients?

Of course, it’s all mumbo jumbo to our top oncologists. Why am I always reminded of Will Carling’s famous quote about 65 old farts running the Rugby world when I think of British Medicine? Maybe they just want to hide their ignorance; maybe deep down inside they are embarrassed that they have never studied nutrition, never seen a Kirlian photograph, never had time to read the clinical trials on meditation?

Meanwhile Harvard, UCLA, MD Anderson, Berlin, Karolinska, Milan and others are publishing research papers weekly on the benefits of vitamins and other supplements. How vitamin D is essential in the fight against breast cancer; how medicinal mushrooms improve the action of prostate drugs; how taking vitamin E reduces the need for tamoxifen by 25 per cent. How many UK oncologists are using this expert science? How many are enhancing the effectiveness of the therapies they are recommending, in these proven ways?

Meanwhile what do our leaders do? They support the EU Committee that basically bans seven of the eight forms of vitamin E from public sale. Brilliant.

And when there is not simply research but their beloved ‘clinical trials’ on a vitamin, they ignore them. Self-styled ‘experts’ go in the Daily Mail saying ‘no research exists’ when asked about vitamins, complementary or alternative therapies. And 25 year-old journalists scribble away, their columns to fill.

Is this still ignorance, a lack of education or a lack of time to read? Or is it something more sinister. When you look into who pays their salaries at their universities and research centers, vested interests are hardly hidden. And if payment controls your tongue – isn’t this mis-information the worst form of Quackery?

We are paying the price for selling our soul

The fact is - the research on Complementary and Alternative Therapies does exist:  how many examples would you like? US clinical trials which show meditation prior to surgery reduces blood loss (New York Presbyterian Hospital); how vitamin K3 and vitamin C improve the action of certain chemotherapy drugs (MD Anderson), or Vitamin E and Tamoxifen, or 80 plus clinical trials from all over Europe and the US in the last four years that show you have to have certain beneficial bacteria in your body to have a decent immune system. Even the US National Cancer Institute reports on the benefits of hypnosis before breast cancer surgery.

test1Meanwhile those 65 old farts laud any drug that shows a benefit over the last, in a clinical trial, forgetting one important fact: Cancer cells are clever. They adapt. Eventually they will just learn to live around your new drug. So you’ll have to come up with yet another one.

If drugs are the answer, why are our doctors busier now than ever before, even though per head of population we still have the same numbers as 30 years ago? Maybe the drugs don’t work as well as our 65 good men would like us to believe? Maybe they do create more problems than they solve?  After all, US prescription drug deaths have leapt 68 per cent in the last 5 years and are now the second largest cause of unintentional deaths in America (HealthWorld Online).

In 2004 a ‘Megastudy’ or systematic review of American and Australian research on the effectiveness of chemotherapy concluded that despite the billions spent developing these drugs over the past 50 years there had only been a 2.5 per cent improvement in 5-year survival rates due to the drugs. 

The computer sitting on your GP’s desk will take him straight to the drug to be used for your ailment. How many complementary therapies are included in this system, which laughably is called ‘Best Practice’? Would you like me to tell you about the drug that is deemed the gold standard in the UK that American hospitals say doesn’t work?

We have sold our souls to the clinical trial and, worse, the pharmaceutical companies’ shekel. The money lenders have taken over the Temple. Can we wonder why we lag behind other nations? In France my local GP is also a Homeopath. In Germany the one I took my friend to was also a Naturopath. In Sweden the Karolinska is a leading light in causes and prevention. I’ve met Austrian and Swiss Doctors who were also herbalists. Our 65 good men hate all this.

Attitudes to Cancer treatment will change, watch this space

In the last 5 years, I have changed. I started as a man with a biochemistry and nutrition interest trying to save my daughter’s life. As I’ve learned more so the state of the ‘officialdom’ and its impact on you and your life makes me sad.

I am sent all manner of reports from all over the world. But the ones here in England are the ‘funniest’ – well, funny if it wasn’t so sad.

For example, I have had letters from top hospital dieticians who recommend all patients on chemotherapy eat cheese burgers and sticky buns and drink milky sugary cups of tea. Yesterday I had a new ‘Nutritional cancer web site’ who thought much the same and wanted a link from us!  Neither have the first clue about a cancer cell; how it metabolises and grows. Otherwise they would know diets like these will actually hinder your doctor trying to beat your cancer.

Then I get press releases, “ Drug X improves survival’. What does that word ‘survival  mean to you? To me it would mean I was going to beat the disease. But no, read the research detail in a separate document and it says ‘mean survival time before progression increase from 8.6 months to 10.3 months’. Obviously well worth the millions spent developing it, and the PR man’s fee for writing the headline.

test2But the funniest is when I get Press releases from top charities telling me that we are beating cancer and it’s all down to the money that has been spent on drug research and clinical trials. Notwithstanding the fact that cancer rates have doubled in the last 30 years and are expected to double again in the next 20, let’s just suppose that we are in some way ‘beating cancer’. For example, the five-year survival figures for England have improved in real terms, so let’s not get picky, let’s suppose we really are in some way ‘curing’ people. Now, what evidence is there that this is down to the orthodox treatment, and especially the drugs?

We know that over the last 10 years there have been a host of new cancer charities in Britain. We know they all have web sites. We know over half of all patients now turn to the web for information and self-empowerment. We know that many of these charities – Bristol (Penny Brohn), Maggies, The Haven for example – extol complementary therapy programmes. Research amongst our readers showed they were taking 5 supplements a day and 3 complementary therapies per month. Maybe, just maybe, this not the drugs is the dominant factor behind the increases in 5-year survival. You can hardly go to a hospital now that doesn’t have a new bright shiny complementary center. Are they having no effect?

And take the information charities on the web – there’s CANCERactive, and the rest.
Before we came along I used the American sites. So much more information on so many topics.

Take the web site of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas. Their home page says it all:  ‘Our mission is simple – to eliminate cancer. Achieving that goal begins with integrated programs in cancer treatment, clinical trials, education programs and cancer prevention’.

‘Integrated programmes in cancer treatment’, ‘prevention’, and elsewhere they cover ‘vitamins’, ‘new treatments’, ‘energy therapies’, ‘complementary therapies’ – everything that might help improve survival.

Just like we do now at CANCERactive,
And mark my words -just like Cancer Backup and Cancer Research will dom -they will be dragged into the 21st century. And so will the 65 old farts – they won’t like it, there will more wars of words in the tabloid press. But it matters not. The tanker is turning, even if the Medical Authorities are the ones with their hands on the rudder still. There are too many ‘tug boats’ out there now to stop it. And in the end the figures will improve. And, you, the patient will benefit.

And that is the only reason why I do what I do. I’m a tug boat!

Now. Do you want to know the EUROCARE-4 figures?

Women, children and the weak should turn away now.


  • EUROCARE-3 took place in 1990-94. EUROCARE-4 featured two reports 1995–99 and 2000-2002. The studies involved 80 cancer registries across 23 countries. I’ve taken just the top 5 countries each time. EUROCARE-3 in brackets.

Breast Cancer 5-year survival

Iceland  87.6 (78.7)
Sweden  84.3  (82.7)
Italy   83.7 (79.7)
Finland  83.6 (80.0)
France  82.7 (80.9)

Average 79.5 (75.4) 

England 77.6 (72.4)

Note: Sweden was top last time; England is still a full 10 points behind the top country, meaning 10 more women in every hundred in Iceland will reach 5-years. Northern Ireland (77.4), Wales (76.9) and Scotland (75.0) are all lower than England. Scotland is not even up to the EUROCARE-3 Average.

Prostate Cancer 5-year Survival

Austria  84.9 (78.0)
Switzerland 82.9 (68.7)
Germany 81.6 (77.5)
Holland 80.9 (70.3)
Finland 80.0 (62.3)

Average 73.9 (61.4)

England 69.8 (54.7)

Note Austria has stayed firmly ahead. England is still 15 people in every hundred behind the best country. In the UK after England comes Wales (68.7), Scotland (67.8) and then Northern Ireland (60.8).

Colorectal Cancer 5-year Survival

Switzerland 59.7 (55.2)
Sweden 58.3 (54.9)
Norway 58.3 (53.8)
Finland 57.8 (52.9)
France = 57.5 (56.7)
Germany = 57.5 (52.4)

Average 53.5 (49.3)

England 50.8 (45.9)

France has slipped from top place. England is 9 people in every hundred behind the best, and also behind Northern Ireland (51.8), Scotland (51.5) with Wales lagging a very little at 50.6.

Lung 5-year Survival

Iceland  14.7 (11.2)
Holland 14.3 (12.0)
Austria  13.9 (14.4)
Switzerland 13.6 (10.3)
Sweden 13.1 (10.6)

Average 10.2 (9.2)

England 8.6 (7.9)

So in England we are dangerously close to being only half as good as the best European countries. Northern Ireland achieves the EUROCARE average at 10.2; Wales is 9.0 and Scotland 8.0.

Chris Woollams, Founder CANCERactive
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