- More than one person in three will develop cancer at some time in their lives and one in four will die of cancer.
- Cancer develops most often in older people – the proportion of older people with cancer registered in 2008 was 74.5%.
- The number of cancer patients entering clinical trials has doubled in the last three years. This is one of the highest rates of cancer trial participation in the world.
- Over 250,000 people in England are diagnosed with cancer every year and around 130,000 die from it. Currently, about 1.8 million people are living with and beyond a cancer diagnosis.
- Since April 2009, patients undergoing treatment for cancer, the effects of cancer, or the effects of cancer treatment are entitled to exemption from prescription charges.
Improving outcomes: a strategy for cancer (PDF, 1Mb) was published on January 12 2011 and describes how the coalition government’s plans to reform health and care services will put patients and the public at the heart of cancer services. It also sets out the ambition to drive up England’s cancer survival rates, so that by 2014/15 an extra 5,000 lives can be saved every year.
Improving outcomes for people with cancer is not just about higher survival rates. It is also about improving patients' experience of care and the quality of life for cancer survivors. The strategy is backed with funding of more than £750 million over four years and sets out plans such as:
- promoting lifestyle changes to reduce cases of preventable cancers
- increasing the uptake of early cancer screenings and introducing new screening programmes where there is evidence to justify them
- increasing early diagnosis of cancer, to improve the scope for successful treatment
- improving patient experience and support for cancer survivors
- ensuring that all patients have access to the best possible treatment, care and support
Despite recent improvements in cancer care, survival rates in England are still lagging behind other countries. The late diagnosis of cancer is seen as the key reason for this, which is why £450 million of the £750 million will be used to improve early diagnosis.
This funding will:
- give GPs increased access to, and support in, interpreting key diagnostic tests
- support GPs in commissioning cancer services
- cover the increase in testing and the treatment costs in secondary care as more people are diagnosed
- support campaigns that raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer as well as getting symptomatic patients to see their GP earlier
Prevention of cancer
Over half of all cancers could be prevented if people adopted healthy lifestyle choices, such as:
- stopping smoking: smoking is the major preventable risk factor for cancer
- avoiding obesity: obesity is now the most important preventable risk factor for cancer in non-smokers
- eating a healthy diet
- undertaking a moderate level of physical activity
- avoiding too much alcohol
- avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight
SunSmart, the national skin cancer prevention campaign run by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) on behalf of the four UK Health Departments, raises awareness among the public and healthcare professions about the causes of skin cancer, how to prevent it and the importance of early detection and treatment.
The NHS Cervical Screening Programme in England saves up to 4,500 lives every year. Within the programme, women aged from 25 to 49 are invited for free cervical screening every three years, and women aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years. Women over the age of 65 are invited if their previous three tests were not clear or if they have never been screened.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme is a great success and regarded as one of the best screening programmes in the world, saving an estimated 1,400 lives each year. Over 95% cent of women who have had invasive breast cancer detected by screening are alive five years later.
Under the NHS Breast Screening Programme, breast screening is provided every three years for all women in England aged 50 and over. Currently, women aged between 50 to 69 are invited routinely and women over the age of 70 can request free screening every three years.
The eligible age range for routine breast screening is currently being extended to provide nine screening rounds between the ages of 47 and 73 by 2016.
Together with Cancer Research UK, we have produced a breast awareness leaflet, Be Breast Aware (PDF, 31kb). This encourages women to know what changes to look for and report them to their GP as quickly as possible to give the best opportunity to treat the cancer successfully.
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is one of the first national bowel screening programmes in the world and the first cancer screening programme in England for men as well as women.
All men and women aged from 60 to 69 are sent a self-testing kit (the Faecal Occult Blood or FOB test) every two years, and the programme detects around 3,000 cancers every year. The programme is being extended to men and women aged from 70 to their 75th birthday by 2014. People aged over 75 can request a free kit to use by telephoning 0800 707 60 60.
Ensuring better treatment
Treatment for cancer has improved considerably over the past decade. There has been a major increase in the use of effective new treatments approved by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) and reductions in waiting times.
Currently, all patients referred with suspected cancer by their GP have a maximum wait of two weeks to see a specialist. This also applies to all patients referred for investigation of breast symptoms, even if cancer is not initially suspected.
Cancer patients should wait no more than 31 days from the decision to treat to the start of their first treatment. It is also expected that any subsequent surgical, drug or radiotherapy treatments will be delivered within 31 days.
All patients should wait a maximum of 62 days from their urgent GP referral to the start of their treatment. This 62-day standard also includes all patients referred from NHS cancer screening programmes (breast, cervical and bowel) and all patients whose consultants suspect they may have cancer.
You can find more information in our guide to waiting times.
Patients with cancer vary in the extent to which they wish to be involved in decision-making. Some take an active role, others prefer to share decision-making with the health professionals caring for them and others adopt a passive role. Patients should be free to choose any of these roles, or indeed to be active about some aspects of their care and passive about others. Clinicians caring for a patient should support patients in their decision and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect.
Find tips and advice on how to make the right choices for you in our Choice of treatment section.