Differences in Nordic cancer patient survival observed today originate from the 1970s, but were first identified in a mortality prediction from 1995. This paper provides timely comparisons of survival using NORDCAN, a database with comparable information from the Nordic cancer registries. Elucidation of the differences is important when monitoring cancer care generally and evaluating the impact of cancer plans.
Material and methods: The NORDCAN database 1964-2003 with follow-up for death through 2006, was used to analyse incidence, mortality, and survival for all NORDCAN cancer sites. We analysed 5-year relative survival and excess mortality rates in the first three months and 2-5 years after diagnosis.
Results: The time trends in survival 1989-2003 were largely similar between the Nordic countries with increases in 14 sites among men and 16 among women. In all countries the excess mortality rates were highest in the first three months after diagnosis, but decreased to similar levels across all countries 2-5 years after diagnosis. Comparing countries excess mortality was highest in Denmark irrespective of follow-up period. Lower survival was observed for Danish cancer patients in 23 of the 33 cancer sites in men and 26 of 35 sites in women. Low and similar levels of survival were observed for cancers of the oesophagus, lung, liver and pancreas, while an 8-10 percentage point difference in survival was found between countries for colorectal cancer.
Conclusion: The notable differences in Nordic cancer patient survival can be linked to national variations in risk factors, co-morbidity, and the implementation of screening. Improved treatment and primary prevention, in particular the targeting of tobacco and alcohol use, is required to improve cancer control. The recently-initiated cancer plans in Denmark and Norway are yet to show an observable effect on the corresponding cancer survival.