By examining nationwide cancer registries and death certificates in three countries, doctors found that survival rates for men dropped from 11.3 percent in Sweden, to 9.3 percent in Norway, to 6.5 percent in England.

The same pattern was seen in women, although they survived longer than men overall. The difference between countries was particularly striking in the first few months, and then gradually waned.

All too often in this country, cancer is diagnosed later than it should be, Sarah Woolnough, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, who was not involved in the study, said in a statement to Reuters Health.

This important new study reveals the scale of the challenge for lung cancer in particular, she added, as the difference in survival was more marked in the first year after diagnosis.

The researchers, led by Dr. Lars Holmberg of King's College London in the UK, are still not entirely sure why England is lagging.

Our data have shown that there are clinically relevant differences in lung cancer survival between three countries with similar national expenditure on health and similar healthcare systems, they write in the medical journal Thorax.

Although British doctors in principle might treat lung cancer differently, the researchers speculate that Britons -- who smoke more than Swedes -- may also be less aware of cancer risks and have less access to healthcare.

As a result, Britons might show up later at the doctor's office, when their cancer has grown too aggressive to be treated effectively.

Although differences in treatment may play a role, spotting lung cancer early could make a real difference to survival rates, said Woolnough. We're working with the Department of Health and NHS (National Health Service) on the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI), which aims to get better results for cancer patients through earlier diagnosis.