A major report has been published which calls on governments in Europe and Australia to do much more to improve the survival of patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

The London School of Economics has launched the report to coincide with the World Congress on Gastrointestinal Cancer in Barcelona and it states that there is an “urgent need” for action to improve the survival of CRC patients. CRC is the second most common cause of death across all cancer types in in Europe accounting for over 200,000 deaths in 2006 but if diagnosed and treated early, it is potentially preventable and curable, the study notes, "and early detection and treatment could mean that 90% of people survive".

Some 17 countries in Europe (plus Australia) are included in the report which uses a ‘scorecard’ of positive and negative indicators created by the LSE team to show what countries do well and where they have room for improvement. Overall only a minority of countries score over 50% for positive points (including Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, UK and Australia) although none scored over 75%, showing that each country has room for improvement.

The principal problem is that there is “limited public and political awareness of CRC, few formal screening programmes exist and treatment guidelines are variable”, claims the report, “with generally poor or delayed access to treatment and slow adoption of new targeted drugs that can significantly increase survival”. Lead author, Panos Kanavos, a senior lecturer at LSE, said the report is “the first to give healthcare providers, policy makers and patient groups the detailed evidence needed to create and deliver sustainable standards and plans that will ensure people throughout Europe affected by this devastating cancer have equal access to a better future.”

The LSE report was welcomed by influential patient group Europacolon. Its director, Jola Gore-Booth, said that for too long CRC “has been the poor relation in cancer screening and management”. It causes over 50% more deaths each year than breast cancer, yet in many countries, screening for the latter has been widely available for more than two decades “whereas few formal screening programmes exist for CRC," she said.

She added that EU health ministers made recommendations to all member states in 2003 in regard to cancer screening programmes and these were reiterated in the Declaration of Brussels in 2007. However, “today's findings show these are not being implemented quickly enough. In the meantime, nearly a quarter of a million people are dying each year from this debilitating disease which can be prevented if diagnosed and treated at an early stage."