Cancers of the digestive organs (including the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum and anus, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas) constitute one-fifth of all cancer cases in the Nordic countries and is a group of diseases with diverse time trends and varying consequences for public health. In this study we examine trends in relative survival in relation to the corresponding incidence and mortality rates in the Nordic countries during the period 1964-2003. MATERIAL AND METHODS: Data were retrieved from the NORDCAN database for the period 1964 to 2003, grouped into eight 5-year periods of diagnosis. The patients were followed up until the end of 2006. Analysis comprised trends in 5-year relative survival, excess mortality and age-specific relative survival. RESULTS: Survival following cancers of the colon and rectum has increased continuously over the observed period, yet Danish patients fall behind those in the other Nordic countries. The largest inter-country variation is seen for the rare cancers in the small intestine. There has been little increase in prognosis for patients diagnosed with cancers of the liver, gallbladder or pancreas; 5-year survival is generally below 15%. Survival also remains consistently low for patients with oesophageal cancer, while minor increases in survival are seen among stomach cancer patients in all countries except Denmark. The concomitant incidence and mortality rates of stomach cancer have steadily decreased in each Nordic country at least since 1964. CONCLUSION: While the site-specific variations in mortality and survival largely reflect the extent of changing and improving diagnostic and clinical practices, the incidence trends highlight the importance of risk factor modification. Alongside the ongoing clinical advances, effective primary prevention measures, including the control of alcohol and tobacco consumption as well as changing dietary pattern, will reduce the incidence and mortality burden of digestive cancers in the Nordic countries.
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