Three people at a train station looking at their phones.

With the NHS celebrating its 70th birthday and the Brexit deadline looming, it’s been an exciting and unpredictable year in politics and policy.

Here are 6 key moments that defined cancer policy in 2018.

1. Prime Minister wants 3 in 4 cancers to be diagnosed early by 2028

In September, Theresa May announced a bold ambition for 3 in 4 cancers to be diagnosed early by 2028. Right now, just over half of patients are diagnosed early (stage 1 and 2). People are more likely to survive their cancer when diagnosed early, so this ambition could potentially save thousands of lives. But it won’t become a reality without more NHS staff to diagnose and treat these patients.

We’ve been campaigning for more NHS staff to diagnose and treat cancer since 2017. And our recent report estimates that the NHS cancer workforce could need to double in the next 10 years just to meet the growing demand.

The Government is yet to unveil how it will meet the Prime Minister’s ambitions. And with the NHS long-term plan seemingly on hold until the New Year, we hope that the Government recognises the current staffing crisis and tackles it in plans for the future of cancer care.

2. Brexit

It’s been more than 2 years since the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU), and negotiators have finally reached a potential agreement on how the UK could exit. There are still lots of political issues around the deal, so what happens next isn’t certain. But it was an important milestone to pass.

We’ve spent the last couple of years making the case to the UK and the EU that cancer patients and research must be protected during Brexit, whatever happens. And we’re pleased that the deal recognised that collaboration between the UK and the EU must continue on research and on new medicines, and that researchers must be able to move across borders to continue their vital work.

But much more detail is needed, particularly on how vital EU-wide clinical trials will operate. So as Brexit rumbles on, we’ll be continuing to make sure patients and research are a priority.

3. CAR T cell therapy

In October, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which decides whether the NHS should pay for new cancer medicines in England, approved a ground-breaking new immunotherapy treatment, called CAR T cell therapy. It’s been dubbed “the first truly personalised therapy” and involves taking a patient’s immune cells, modifying them in a lab so they recognise and fight cancer cells and reintroducing them to the patient’s bloodstream. The treatment is only effective in a small number of specific blood cancers and can have serious side effects.

This was the first approval in Europe for this type of treatment, showing how NICE and NHS England have been working together to get this treatment to patients quickly.

4. Government’s updated plan to tackle childhood obesity

The Government published the second phase of its Childhood Obesity plan in June, which laid out a bold ambition to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030. As part of the plan, the Government has proposed a watershed on junk food marketing on TV before 9pm and online – something we’ve been pushing for since 2016.

The latest plan is a more encouraging set of commitments than the disappointing first chapter. But it’s not a done deal. The Government will soon be asking for feedback on the proposed junk food marketing restrictions and we’ll be sending in our response to make sure the proposal goes ahead.

Scotland published its own Diet and Obesity Plan in June as well. As a result of our campaign, the plan includes restrictions on multi-buy promotions (such as 2 for £3) on junk food. The Scottish Government is now asking for feedback on how to do this, and we’re working with them to make the plan as strong as possible.

5. HPV vaccine for boys

In July, an expert vaccine committee recommended that boys aged 11-13 should also be offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The vaccine can help protect against the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer, as well as some upper throat and penis cancers. But up until this year it was only routinely offered to girls. This announcement comes from growing evidence around the likely health benefits and the overall cost effectiveness of a gender neutral vaccination programme.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments, as well as the Department of Health and Social Care in England, have accepted the recommendation to offer the vaccine to boys. We’re now waiting to hear the full details of when and how the programme will be rolled out. When the vaccine was first offered to girls in the UK, a ‘catch-up’ programme was introduced for girls up to the age of 18, but concerning reports suggest this might not happen for boys.

6. A single waiting time target in Wales

Each country in the UK has targets for how long it should take for someone with symptoms to be diagnosed with cancer and start treatment. Right now, there are two separate waiting time targets in Wales, depending on whether someone is referred by their GP as urgent or not. But this is set to change. Last month, the Welsh Government announced a single, 62-day target. This would cover the length of time it should take from suspicion of cancer to treatment starting for everyone in Wales who is diagnosed with cancer.

What’s missing?

Northern Ireland’s cancer strategy is over 10 years old and is now out of date. While a refreshed plan didn’t appear this year, the good news is that the Department of Health in Northern Ireland is now considering one for 2019.

The new, more effective test used for bowel cancer screening is still not available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, despite being recommended back in January 2016. But things look more hopeful for 2019. The Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) is a more sensitive test which is easier for people to complete. More people screened using this test means more bowel cancers caught in the early, more treatable stages – so this is something we’d like to see soon.

What’s also missing is enough funding for public health, which enables councils to provide services that help prevent cancer – including stop smoking services. We’ve been working both nationally and locally to keep prevention a priority for NHS England, and that won’t stop in 2019.

Thank you

We’ve had enormous support from you this year, and it’s thanks to you that we’re able to continue to keep cancer high on the political agenda.

With the Brexit deadline looming and the NHS long-term plan still due, next year doesn’t look like it’s going to be any calmer. But with your support, we’re ready to face 2019.

If you want to keep track of the latest policy developments, follow us on Twitter @CRUK_Policy

Kirsten Rhodes is a campaigning officer at Cancer Research UK