A lack of improvement in early diagnosis rates means cancer survival in England continues to lag behind leading countries, a new report reveals.
The report, published by the Health Foundation and former National Cancer Director Professor Sir Mike Richards, looked at how cancer care in England has changed since 1995.
While cancer survival and experiences of care have improved in the last two decades, survival rates in England still fall short of other comparable countries. This is due in part to a lack of improvement in spotting cancer early.
The proportion of patients being diagnosed with cancer in the crucial early stages, for example, remained almost static between 2015 and 2017.
Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy says the report shows just how far the country has to go in providing the best chances of survival.
“Although survival from cancer in the UK has doubled over the last four decades, it still lags behind the world’s best. And with the number of cases increasing – by 2035, one person every minute will be diagnosed – it’s crucial that we speed up progress,” she said.
‘Radical rethink’ required
The report warns that a ‘radical rethink’ is needed to help close the gap on cancer survival.
“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,” said Sir Mike Richards.
The report recommends providing supports for GPs to refer more patients for urgent investigation. It also suggests more should be done to educate the public on symptoms associated with cancer to ensure they can seek medical attention earlier, aiding early detection.
“Preventing more cancers and diagnosing people at the earliest stage are key to achieving world class cancer care,” says Greenwood. “Every part of the health system has its part to play, particularly encouraging more people to seek advice when they have symptoms making sure more people are diagnosed early.”
But as Greenwood explains, NHS staff shortages have proved a major barrier to further care improvements.
“We must, as a matter of urgency, see a clear plan to boost the cancer workforce – backed up by vital investment – as part of the NHS long term plan,” she says.
Looking to the future
In October this year, the Prime Minister committed to diagnosing 3 in 4 cancers at an early stage by 2028. Right now just over half of cancers are diagnosed at an early stage.
“The current cancer strategy has created an excellent opportunity to make progress,” said Greenwood. “Along with the Prime Minister’s pledge to improve early diagnosis, now is the critical time to build on these foundations to provide world-class care for UK cancer patients.”
Sir Mike Richards et al (2018) Unfinished business: An assessment of the national approach to improving cancer services in England 1995–2015