UK's breast cancer death rates dropped the most in Europe, but better records still needed

LONDON (AP) — The rate at which women died from breast cancer dropped faster in Britain than in any other major European country during the last two decades, according to new research.

In previous studies, Britain has often ranked last among Western Europe for cancer survival rates. The U.K. does not spend as much money on new cancer drugs or other treatments as other countries including France and Germany.

In a study published online in the medical journal BMJ, European researchers analyzed data from the World Health Organization, looking for changes in the breast cancer death rates in 30 European countries from 1980 to 2006.

Among countries including France, Finland and Sweden, the death rate from breast cancer dropped by 10 to 16 percent. In the U.K., it fell by more than 30 percent. The authors said the decreasing death rates could be due to wider breast cancer screening and more targeted treatments.

In an accompanying commentary, Valerie Beral and Richard Peto of the University of Oxford wrote that incomplete records may have led to previously "misleading claims about the supposed inferiority of U.K. cancer treatment."

Because cancer registration isn't mandatory in the U.K., many cancer patients may only be picked up shortly before they die, giving the impression they only survive for a short time. Beral and Peto said the rapid drops in Britain's cancer death rates appear valid.