Survival from breast cancer in the UK is lower than in other countries in Western Europe, the USA and Australia. However, these international differences have not yet been examined in relation to tumor characteristics, treatment, screening history or other prognostic factors. We calculated relative survival by age, period of diagnosis, category of unemployment and extent of disease for women diagnosed with breast cancer during the period 1980-2002 in New South Wales (Australia) and West Midlands (England). National cancer registry data for each country for the period 1990-1994 were also examined. The excess hazard ratio was modeled as a function of prognostic covariables. Survival in Australia and New South Wales was higher than in England and West Midlands, respectively. In both regions, survival was lower for more deprived women and for the elderly. These differences were greater in West Midlands. Survival from localized and regional disease in New South Wales was higher than in West Midlands, but survival from metastatic disease was similar. Differences in breast cancer survival are unlikely to be entirely due to differences in data quality or to limitations of the analyses, although the measure of extent of disease used may not have been adequate to elucidate the effect of stage fully. One possible causal explanation is that the management of breast cancer differs between these regions. Further research should acquire better data on stage and investigate the effect of comorbidity and of patterns of care upon the difference in breast cancer survival between England and Australia.
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