Cancer patients in Wales are waiting longer for care than in other comparable countries, a study has shown.

Cancer Research UK has called on the Welsh Government to move “further and faster” to keep up with comparable countries and improve outcomes for patients.

Researchers from University College London – part of the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP) – studied data on more than 780,000 people between 2012 and 2017 in Australia, Canada, Norway and the UK, looking at the proportion of patients treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy and the waiting times they face.

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Patients in Wales faced the longest waiting times to start treatment at an average of 81 days for radiotherapy compared with 79 days in Scotland, 63 days in England and just 44 in Norway.

Waiting times for chemotherapy in Wales were also long at 58 days compared with 48 days in England, 43 days in Australia and just 39 days in Norway. However, Scotland was higher at 65 days.

In Wales, 31.1% of patients were treated with chemotherapy, only slightly behind the UK average of 31.5%. Northern Ireland was the lowed at 28.8%.

Simon Scheeres, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Wales, said: “Today’s report signals that Wales must move further and faster to keep up with comparable countries, which see better cancer outcomes.

“When it comes to treating cancer, timing can be crucial. Beating cancer means beating it for everyone and all patients should have access to timely treatment no matter where they live or what cancer they have.

“We must address these challenges head on by investigating what is driving variations within cancer services and discover how they are impacting patients in Wales.”

Mr Scheeres called on the Welsh government to address the report’s findings “at pace” to help cancer patients now and in the future.

National cancer clinical director for Wales, Professor Tom Crosby, acknowledged changes have already been made in Wales since this data was created but stressed work needed to continue on improving the service.

He said: “The current NHS and cancer services landscape is very challenging largely due to workforce capacity and financial constraints.

“However, I am certain we can improve efficiency in the use of existing resources and reduce variation in service delivery across Wales.”

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A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Access to cancer treatment is a priority and clinical teams and managers across the NHS in Wales are working hard to improve cancer performance.

“We have seen a record increase in referrals for cancer diagnosis, of 50%, in the last three years.

“In 2023 record numbers of patients started treatment for cancer (more than 21,700) and a record 165,000 people were informed they don’t have cancer.

“We are investing heavily in cancer services to improve diagnosis and access to high-quality care, and we have also launched a national programme to support recovery in cancer waiting times supported by £2 million per year for three years.”

Since 2017, NHS expenditure on cancer care in Wales has increased from £453 million a year to £650 million in 2021-22.