Advances in UK cancer survival fall sharply
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Improvements in cancer survival have fallen sharply in recent years and progress is now slower than it has been for almost half a century, according to new data from Cancer Research UK.
The charity on Friday called for a big national push, backed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, to tackle record waits for diagnosis and treatment and to close a funding gap in the UK of more than £1bn.
Michelle Mitchell, CRUK chief executive, said it was “worrying that the rate of improvement has slowed in recent years”. But, she noted, cancer survival in the UK was “at the highest point it’s ever been, which shows that together, we’re making progress on beating cancer”.
The likelihood of surviving cancer for 10 years or more in the UK has improved from 47.9 per cent in 2010-11 to 49.8 per cent in 2018, the analysis commissioned by the charity from the Cancer Survival Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed.
However, momentum in tackling the disease has been slowing. Each year on average, between 1991-92 and 2000-01, survival rates increased by 2.7 per cent, the data showed. But the years from 2010 to 2018 registered a rise of just 0.6 per cent.
This compares with the previous low point of a 1.5 per cent increase in the 10 years to 1980-81.
It is the first time in a decade that the charity has released new figures on overall cancer survival in the UK.
Cancer patients faced “anxious and historically long waits for tests and treatments”, Mitchell said.
The NHS is set to be a pivotal battleground when voters go to the polls in the general election, which is expected later this year. Mitchell said that beating cancer would require “real political leadership and must be a priority for all political parties ahead of a general election”.
The charity is calling for the establishment of a National Cancer Council, accountable to the prime minister, to bring together government, the life sciences sector, charities and scientific experts, with one of the goals to boost funding.
The report also highlights that cancer waiting times are among the worst on record and the last time all the NHS targets for diagnosis and treatment were met in England was 2015.
It added that too many cancers were diagnosed at a late stage and survival lagged behind comparable countries. Nor is access to treatment equal across the UK.
Cancer Research UK estimates that each year, if survival by stage across England matched the best performing areas, about 1,400 more lung cancer patients, and 840 more bowel cancer patients, could survive their disease for two years or more.
The NHS said it was diagnosing and treating more people with cancer than ever before at an early stage when the disease was easier to treat, and survival rates were higher than ever.
But, it added, there was more to do “and the NHS continues to test and adopt the latest advances in treatments, alongside national awareness campaigns, screening programmes and new initiatives to increase early diagnosis”.
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are working to make access to cancer services faster and simpler. We have also invested £2.3bn into speeding up diagnosis and launched 153 ‘community diagnostic centres’ across England, which will help us achieve our aim of catching 75 per cent of all cancers at stage one or two by 2028.”