Canada's survival rates for breast and colorectal cancer are among the highest in the OECD, a new report from the agency suggests, but long wait times and in-hospital adverse events "are a concern."

In the latest edition of its health-care report "Health at a Glance," the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development says that overall, medical care is improving across all 34 member states.

However, it identifies numerous problems, including in Canada high-wait times for care, a higher rate of trauma in the delivery room and more incidents of "foreign objects" being left in patients after surgery.

The report noted that surgery error figures, such as the number of incidents of items being left behind, as well as accidental punctures or lacerations, may be the result of Canada's strong data-collection efforts.

According to the report:

  • The five-year breast cancer survival rate for the period between 2004 and 2009 was 87 per cent, third-highest among OECD countries.
  • Avoidable hospital admissions for complications from asthma and diabetes are both well below the OECD average.
  • However, obstetric trauma (defined as vaginal delivery with instruments) occurred in 13.7 per cent of deliveries compared to an OECD average of 5.5 per cent.
  • And, in an 11-country survey, wait times for care were the highest in Canada.

The report also points out that in 2009, Canada spent 11.4 per cent of GDP on health care, more than the average among OECD countries of 9.6 per cent.

In its own report compiled from the OECD data, the Canadian Institute for Health Information said that while comparing information between countries can be risky because some data may be incomplete, the exercise "can highlight potential areas of improvement for our own health system."

The OECD data notes, for example, that Canada has lower smoking rates than can be found in most other member nations, while rates of obesity are among the highest.

The CIHI points out that Canada is one of only five OECD countries to decrease its smoking rate by more than 30 per cent since 1999. However, Canada's self-reported rate of obesity is 16.5 per cent, second-highest among G7 countries.

And while survival rates for breast and colorectal cancers are among the highest in the OECD, Canada has a relatively high rate of cancer compared to other countries, the CIHI says.

As well, cancer mortality rates for women in Canada are among the highest in the OECD, and highest of G7 countries.

"Canada has strong performance in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Reducing cancer deaths further may require more focus on prevention programs to reduce the number of new cases," Kathleen Morris, director of health system analysis and emerging issues at the CIHI, said in a statement.

"For example, lower smoking rates in Canada today may mean fewer lung cancer cases in the future -- but some of this progress could be offset by higher obesity rates, which are also a risk factor for cancer."