It remains as important as ever to improve how we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. We have come a long way in the UK over the past 40 years, but we must do better.
Our cancer outcomes still lag behind the best performing countries, and at a time when we have an NHS in transition and a difficult financial climate, we also face an increasing cancer burden and an ageing population.
Improvements must continue to be made if we are to save 5000 more lives per year from cancer by 2015, as set out in the Government’s cancer strategy. Research underpins it all, and we spent £332 million on research last year.
We know that over 100,000 cancers could be prevented by changes to our lifestyle. Prevention is better than cure, and smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer.
Research tells us that plain, standard packs make cigarettes less attractive and help reduce the number of young people who start smoking. Two thirds of the public supports the introduction of standard packs.
Since the government’s consultation closed last August, tens of thousands of children have become smokers. We are urging the government to commit to introducing standard packs. Watch our hard-hitting video (seen by 500,000 people) to see how children react to existing packs.
Earlier diagnosis of cancer increases the likelihood of effective treatment, benefitting patients and the health service.
From April, Public Health England and the NHS Commissioning Board will have shared responsibility for achieving early diagnosis. It is crucial that different parts of the system work closely to achieve real improvements in the awareness and early diagnosis of cancer.
Improving access to treatments provides another opportunity to increase survival. Unfortunately, we know that access to treatments, such as radiotherapy, varies.
It is generally agreed that around 50 per cent of cancer patients should receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment. However, this sits at just under 40 per cent across the UK.
Initiatives such as the Radiotherapy Innovation Fund are trying to address this. We must build on this and similar initiatives to ensure patients have access to optimal treatments, no matter where they live.
Our recent report ‘Cancer services: reverse, pause or progress’ revealed concerns about the impact of reform and budget cuts on cancer services. Positively, waiting times are holding up, which is good for patients.
However, there is concern that reform and financial constraints could put further improvements in cancer services ‘on hold’ for up to three years. We must ensure that the quality of care cancer patients receive continues to improve, and we will be closely monitoring the situation.
At Cancer Research UK, we are very optimistic about the power of research to improve cancer outcomes over the coming years. We look forward to working with the government, the NHS, parliamentarians and others to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.