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Cancer Research UK gears up to tackle early diagnosis challenge with an extra £20million per year

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by Cancer Research UK | News

2 May 2014

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Scientist looking at petri dish

Cancer Research UK has set its sights on transforming the outlook for cancer patients with the announcement today (Friday) of an additional £20million per year dedicated to diagnosing cancers earlier.

Despite the continued improvements in cancer treatments in the last 40 years, too many people are diagnosed at a stage when it is too late for their cancers to be cured.

Diagnosing cancers at an early stage leads to a radical improvement in survival chances. But the only way to crack this is through research to develop new tests and technologies, alongside research to understand why the UK lags behind other countries.

Figures published by Cancer Research UK earlier this week* show that ten year cancer survival has doubled from around 24 per cent in the early 1970s to 50 per cent today. But the latest figures also show that 30 per cent of patients still die within a year. 

The charity’s ambitious new strategy aims to make more progress in the next 20 years so that three in four people survive their cancer.

Within the strategy the charity outlines its commitment to helping more people be diagnosed earlier and today, it defines the investment to help answer the early diagnosis question.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: “International comparison studies have shown that the UK falls down particularly badly on one-year survival, that we tend to diagnose cancers at a later stage and that patients with late stage disease do worse here. It’s a tragedy that so many cancer patients lose their life within a year of diagnosis. But there’s no one magic bullet to improve cancer survival – we need a multi-pronged approach. Early diagnosis is without doubt key to improving survival for those with cancer. We need better tools, improved technology and more research to identify tests to spot cancer sooner.

“We need to make sure the NHS has the world’s best treatments, and that everyone with cancer can access these. Referral processes need to ensure patients have no anxious waits for referral letters, results or seeing their doctors for treatment or appointments.”

Innovation remains key to solving the challenge of late diagnosis. The extra £20million per year is aimed at improving the technology used to diagnose cancer.

Survival rates in breast cancer and bowel cancer are being transformed by the introduction of screening programmes based on innovative technology. The challenge now is to identify technologies which can have a similar impact in other cancer types and being able to identify cancer and pre-cancers that can be treated.

This will require a multidisciplinary approach, with experts from across different areas of science called on to beat cancer sooner. Cancer Research UK is calling on biologists, clinicians, technology experts, physicists, engineers, molecular pathologists and biostatisticians to overcome the barriers to progress and solve the challenges of late diagnosis.

Researchers will be asked to help develop tests for early detection; to develop better imaging technology to more accurately locate and identify cancers; and to create better blood tests or scanning tests to detect cancers in their early stages.

The charity is committed to tackling late diagnosis of cancer by also:

  • Helping people know the signs and symptoms of the disease and encouraging them to visit their GPs
  • Working with partners to encourage more people to participate in screening for breast, bowel and cervical cancers 
  • Campaigning for changes in the NHS to speed up patient referrals

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “The number of people surviving cancer is a success story for research. But while the figures show huge progress is being made, too many people are losing their lives. And since work three years ago showed that a quarter of all cancer patients were only being diagnosed as a result of an emergency admission, we have been working closely with GPs, researchers and local NHS organisations across the country to understand why this is, speed up referral and try new approaches. We will be accelerating these efforts in the coming months.

“Research will help diagnose cancers earlier, at the point when treatment is more likely to be successful. Research is also the only way we’re going to develop better, kinder treatments to change the odds and lives of thousands of patients every year.”


For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059