The International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP) is a unique global programme that identifies how and why cancer survival rates vary between countries. Understanding why some countries have higher survival helps to identify how we can improve health services in the UK to achieve the best outcomes for patients.

Why is this work needed?

Cancer survival varies across the world and even between highly developed countries with similar health systems. A better understanding of what influences survival differences should help to identify how policy and practices could be enhanced to improve cancer survival in the UK and worldwide.

What is happening?

A global partnership was formed of clinicians, academics, data experts and policymakers. The partnership includes 22 jurisdictions across eight countries. To be included, countries had to have high quality and long-standing cancer registration, primary care led health services, universal access to healthcare, and spend a comparable amount on healthcare.

In phase 1, participating countries included Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and UK & Ireland. The ICBP looked at data from 1995-2007 for 2.4 million cancer patient records and benchmarked international cancer survival for lung, breast, colorectal and ovarian cancer and examined factors that may be contributing to survival variations. This included looking at awareness of and attitudes towards cancer in different countries, the role of GPs in diagnosing cancer and the length of time it takes a patient to go from diagnosis of cancer to treatment. These investigations used a range of different techniques, from statistical analysis to surveys.

In phase 2, Sweden did not participate but New Zealand joined the partnership. The ICBP updated the cancer survival rates from phase 1 to look at 3.9 million cancer cases collected from population-based cancer registries during 1995-2014.

From 2021-2023, the ICBP entered a transition phase, where the partnership reflected on the 12 years of research to continue to inform international efforts to improve cancer outcomes.

What are the benefits?

The ICBP is an ongoing partnership, which has delivered a range of valuable research findings and as a result has had an impact in every jurisdiction that has participated. Findings from the ICBP have already been used in UK policy development, contributing to setting goals for the NHS Outcomes Framework.

One key finding was that the UK has the lowest 5-year survival for lung, colorectal and breast cancer and that this low survival correlates with GPs being less likely to refer patients who are showing symptoms for diagnostic tests. As a result of this finding the ACE (accelerate, coordinate, evaluate) programme was set up in England to explore new ways of referring patients.

What type of data is involved?

The ICBP incorporates a range of research projects which collect and use data in different ways. Cancer registration data underpinned the partnership and without access to this the partnership would have been unable to analyse and compare cancer survival between jurisdictions. Other data involved came from surveys with the general population and healthcare practitioners, key informant exercises and hospital datasets. Phase 2 of the partnership explored administrative datasets that already exist in each jurisdiction, for example, records of diagnostic tests and treatment procedures.

This would depend on the specific research project. Cancer registration data would be de-personalised before being shared with researchers. Each jurisdiction obtained ethical approval before the data was released.

Who is funding and collaborating on this work?

The ICBP was initiated by the Department of Health in the UK and programme management is provided by Cancer Research UK. Many funders across the eight countries involved have contributed to the subsequent work, please see the ICBP website for a full list.

Where can I go for more information?

ICBP Partnership