The cure for colon cancer: results from the EUROCARE study

Int J Cancer. 1998 Jul 29;77(3):322-9. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-0215(19980729)77:3<322::aid-ijc2>;2-q.


The interpretation of time trends and geographical differences of population-based survival rates is generally not easy, due to the difficulty in disentangling the effects of observational biases, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and their interactions. Whereas descriptive analysis of relative survival is generally based on survival levels estimated at fixed time since diagnosis, interpretation issues can take advantage from the analysis of the shape of the considered relative survival. Parametric survival models allowing the estimation of the fraction of cured patients are applied here to analyze and discuss the differences in colon cancer relative survival between European countries, according to age and period of diagnosis. The survival curves of colon cancer patients are described according to 2 parameters: the proportion of cured patients and the mean survival time of fatal cases. These parameters are estimated by least square nonlinear regression of relative survival values derived from the EUROCARE Project publication. Exponential and Weibull survival functions are used to model the relative survival curve for the fraction of fatal cases. The Weibull model gives generally a better fit with respect to the exponential model, thus indicating that the mortality rate for fatal cases is decreasing with time since diagnosis. For the youngest patients, however, the 2 survival functions give practically overlapping estimates. The overall proportion of colon cancer patients in Europe that are estimated to be cured was 38.6%. This proportion increased from 36% to 40% for patients diagnosed in 1978-1980 and in 1983-1985, respectively. Accordingly, mean survival time of fatal cases increased from 1.18 to 1.52 years. According to age, the proportion of cured patients present a marked decrease from young (48.4% at age 15-44 years) to middle-aged patients (38.6% at age 5564 years) and only a mild decrease from these to the oldest patients (34.4% at age 75 or more). The opposite effect was shown by survival time of fatal cases, i.e., 1.71, 1.75 and 0.77 years for the same age classes, respectively. Proportion of cured cases and mean survival time of fatal cases tended to be positively correlated with each other across countries. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that a real improvement in colon cancer survival took place in Europe during the years 1978-1985 and also suggest that the well-known decrease of relative survival with age at diagnosis could be mostly due to a decreasing efficacy of early diagnosis for patients under 60 years old and to less effective therapies for older patients.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Colonic Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Survival Rate
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome