The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) uses survival rates for three cancers – breast, cervical and colorectal – as indicators of the quality of care provided by healthcare systems, together with cancer screening and mortality indicators. Here we look at international comparisons of cancer mortality, which reflect both the quality of the healthcare system (e.g. prevention, early detection and treatment) and also incidence rates (the number of new cancer cases per 100,000 population).
Breast cancer mortality has been declining in the UK, falling from 37.7 deaths per 100,000 women in 2001 to 27.9 deaths per 100,000 women in 2016. However, the UK consistently has a relatively high breast cancer mortality rate compared to other countries. The comparator countries with the lowest mortality rates are Japan and Spain. Japan has a high proportion of women diagnosed at an early stage of breast cancer, which may correspond with its relatively low mortality rates. However, in many Asian countries where Western diets and reproductive practices are being adopted, the incidence of breast cancer is increasing.
In the UK, the mortality rate for cervical cancer is lower than for breast cancer. Cervical cancer is less common and rates are expected to fall in future due to the impact of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination programme. Cervical cancer mortality rates fell between 2001 and 2007 (from 3.6 to 2.7 deaths per 100,000 women), then plateaued until 2011. Since then, the rate has continued to decrease, falling to 2.3 deaths per 100,000 women in 2016. In 2001, the UK had one of the highest mortality rates of all the comparator countries, but by 2016, the UK’s ranking had improved to around the average of the comparator countries. Italy consistently has the lowest cervical cancer mortality rate, at only one death per 100,000 women.
Colorectal cancer mortality has been slowly decreasing over time in the UK, falling from 26.1 deaths per 100,000 population in 2001 to 21.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 2016. The UK’s performance is about average among comparator countries. In 2016, the United States had the lowest mortality rate of the comparator countries at 16 deaths per 100,000 population.
About this data
Definitions and comparability for the indicators are taken directly from the OECD report Health at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators. Detailed information about the definitions and the source and methods for each country can be found here.
Mortality rates are based on numbers of deaths registered in a country in a year, divided by the size of the corresponding population. The rates have been directly age-standardised to the 2010 OECD population to remove variations arising from differences in age structures across countries and over time. The OECD extracts data on the number of deaths from the WHO Mortality Database.
Deaths from all cancers are classified to ICD-10 codes C00-C97. The international comparability of cancer mortality data can be affected by differences in medical training and practices as well as in death certification across countries.