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Progress on reducing cancer mortality

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Further progress is needed to tackle cancer Deaths from cancer in the UK are 'the equivalent to a jumbo jet of people falling from the sky every 2 weeks,' said Professor Mike Richards

Progress has been made on reducing mortality, and improving the chances of survival and the experience of care, for people in England diagnosed with cancer, a new report by the Health Foundation has found.

However, despite this the gap in survival rates between the UK and elsewhere has not been closed. For example, a person diagnosed with colon cancer in the UK has a 60% chance of survival after 5 years, compared with 71% for those living in Australia. The report states that early detection is crucial to improving chances of survival, as early-stage cancer is more responsive to treatment than late-stage cancer. Additionally, 5-year survival for bowel cancer is over 90% if caught early, but less than 10% if diagnosed late.

‘The NHS Cancer Plan in 2000 and all subsequent cancer strategies have set ambitions for England to match the best in Europe or the world in relation to cancer survival,’ said Professor Sir Mike Richards, former National Cancer Director at the Department of Health. ‘Although progress has been made on many aspects of cancer, these aims have not been achieved. Every year thousands of deaths could be avoided if we achieved these goals. This is the equivalent to a jumbo jet of people falling from the sky every 2 weeks.’

The report includes a number of recommendations to improve cancer detection and diagnosis. It suggests that there should be greater support for general practice staff to refer patients for urgent investigation. According to the report, efforts to encourage GPs to refer early for suspected cancer have been met with resistance from commissioners under pressure to limit referrals, and by limited hospital capacity to meet demand for diagnostic tests such as endoscopy.

‘The Prime Minister’s ambitious target to increase early detection of cancer from one in two people today, to three in four by 2028, is welcome, but if we are serious about moving the dial on early diagnosis, then setting targets and handing out money will not be enough,’ added Professor Richards. ‘The NHS must change the way that care is currently organised to make it easier for people to be seen and diagnosed as quickly as possible, as we know this gives them the best chance of survival.’

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