The government has announced plans to improve the diagnosis of cancer, with the aim of detecting three out of four cases at an early stage by 2028.
At present, 52% of the top 10 cancers are diagnosed at stages 1 and 2 - the government aims to increase this to 75% over the next decade.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the plans could eventually see 55,000 more people surviving the disease every year.
Under the long-term plan for the NHS, a new package of measures designed to improve cancer diagnosis will include an overhaul of screening programmes, new investment in state-of-the-art technology, and boosting research and innovation.
The government said it intends to use artificial intelligence (AI) to better target at-risk populations and bring screening closer to home, lower the recommended starting age for bowel cancer screening from 60 to 50 and adopt a new easier to use test (the Faecal Immunochemical Test), and accelerate access to ground-breaking treatments.
In July last year, the Swedish Institute for Health Economics published a report showing that the UK is lagging behind Europe in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Cancer patients in England were found to have worse survival rates after five years compared to the European average in nine out of ten cancers - only overshooting the EU average in melanoma, highlighting the need to improve diagnosis and access to medicines.
While cancer survival has been improving in the UK, Cancer Research UK estimates also show that the UK needs to at least double the rate of progress over the next 10 years to match world-leaders in this area, largely because more patients here are diagnosed at a later stage.
A blog by the charity’s head of policy development, Emlyn Samuel, highlights that diagnosing more patients at an early stage is critical to improving the UK’s cancer survival rate, but also notes that the number of people developing the disease is rising, magnifying the challenge.
“More screening tests, newer machinery and more complex diagnostic centres all need people to run them. And the fact that the NHS is already short on diagnostic staff, and that this must be addressed urgently, is something that other organisations involved in improving cancer services wholeheartedly agree with,” he noted.
“We also need doctors to send more people with suspicious symptoms for testing, and of course we need more research to further improve the ways we detect cancer.
“With the number of patients being diagnosed with cancer increasing, and survival lagging behind other countries, we need an NHS that’s staffed not just to meet current demand, but to transform services to give all patients the best prospects.”