Background: The National Health Service (NHS) cancer plan for England was published in 2000, with the aim of improving the survival of patients with cancer. By contrast, a formal cancer strategy was not implemented in Wales until late 2006. National data on cancer patient survival in England and Wales up to 2007 thus offer the opportunity for a first formal assessment of the cancer plan in England, by comparing survival trends in England with those in Wales before, during, and after the implementation of the plan.
Methods: We analysed population-based survival in 2.2 million adults diagnosed with one of 21 common cancers in England and Wales during 1996-2006 and followed up to Dec 31, 2007. We defined three calendar periods: 1996-2000 (before the cancer plan), 2001-03 (initialisation), and 2004-06 (implementation). We estimated year-on-year trends in 1-year relative survival for patients diagnosed during each period, and changes in those trends between successive periods in England and separately in Wales. Changes between successive periods in mean survival up to 5 years after diagnosis were analysed by country and by government office region of England. Life tables for single year of age, sex, calendar year, deprivation category, and government office region were used to control for background mortality in all analyses.
Findings: 1-year survival in England and Wales improved for most cancers in men and women diagnosed during 1996-2006 and followed until 2007, although not all trends were significant. Annual trends were generally higher in Wales than in England during 1996-2000 and 2001-03, but higher in England than in Wales during 2004-06. 1-year survival for patients diagnosed in 2006 was over 60% for 12 of 17 cancers in men and 13 of 18 cancers in women. Differences in 3-year survival trends between England and Wales were less marked than the differences in 1-year survival. North-South differences in survival trends for the four most common cancers were not striking, but the North West region and Wales showed the smallest improvements during 2001-03 and 2004-06.
Interpretation: The findings indicate slightly faster improvement in 1-year survival in England than in Wales during 2004-06, whereas the opposite was true during 2001-03. This reversal of survival trends in 2001-03 and 2004-06 between England and Wales is much less obvious for 3-year survival. These different patterns of survival suggest some beneficial effect of the NHS cancer plan for England, although the data do not so far provide a definitive assessment of the effectiveness of the plan.