“Considerable and significant progress” has been made in the first year of England’s Cancer Reform Strategy (CRS), says National Cancer Director Professor Mike Richards, although he adds: “of course we would all like to have seen more and faster implementation of the CRS” since its launch last December.

Writing in the first annual report setting out progress against the Strategy, entitled Maintaining Momentum, Building for the Future, Prof Richards notes that the latest data (2005-7) indicate that the cancer mortality rate in England has fallen 18% since 1995-97 and the inequalities gap has narrowed by 13%. “This means that nearly 9,000 lives will have been saved in the under-75s in 2007, compared with the 1996 baseline,” he says.

Highlights of the Strategy’s first year include: - launch of the National Awareness and Early Detection Initiative to pick up and treat cancer earlier; - launch of the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative, which aims to ensure that the 1.6 million cancer survivors in England receive the integrated, quality services they need; - introduction of the HPV vaccine, which will protect women against the two strains of HPV which cause more than 70% of cervical cancer cases; and - the successful further rollout of bowel cancer screening, with nearly 2,000 cancers having been detected since the programme began in 2006.

Cancer treatment in Britain has improved “vastly” in recent years, and we are on course to meet our target of a reduction of at least 20% in cancer death rates by 2010, said Prof Richards.

“The proposals that I set out last month in Improving Access to Medicines for National Health Service (NHS) patients will also help to ensure that a greater range of more expensive drugs are made available to more cancer patients on the NHS, reducing their need to seek private drugs. Together with new proposals from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), this will enable patients to have faster access to more life saving cancer drugs,” he added.

For the future, Prof Richards said that he has identified with the CRS board key priorities for the coming year, and these include: - ensuring that primary care is fully engaged, in particular in the challenge of ensuring early diagnosis; - tackling the issues raised by the National Confidential Enquiry Patient Outcome and Death (NCEPOD) report on systemic anti-cancer therapy; - using implementation of the Improving Outcomes Guidance and peer review as levers to improve quality; - putting patient experience at the heart of measuring quality of services, particularly by moving forward on the patient experience survey programme; - continuing the work now underway in transforming inpatient care, which will avoid unnecessary emergency admissions and reduce length of stay; and - local implementation.

Health Minister Ann Keen welcomed the reduction in mortality rates and improvement in one-year survival rates shown in the report, and added: “the challenge now is to keep up this momentum and ensure that we continue to make further improvements.”

Cancer research UK chief executive Harpal Kumar noted that cancers are still often picked up too late, and speeding up this process could make “an enormous difference.”

“We hope that the range of measures we're launching with the National Cancer Director through the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative will go a long way towards redressing the balance,” he said.

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support said the CRS has the potential to transform the quality of services for two million people living with cancer and added: “we remain confident that the strategy will be fully implemented by 2012 as long as it is given higher priority by the government and NHS locally.”