The NHS could upgrade and personalise cancer screening to secure earlier diagnosis of cancer and save more lives, concludes a new report into the country's screening services by Professor Sir Mike Richards.

Sir Mike has called for people to be given greater choice over when and where they are screened, as well as the expansion of local screening services on offer evenings and weekends to help boost uptake. There also needs to be greater action on driving uptake through social media campaigns and text reminders, as well as national roll out of any successful local campaigns.

Also among the recommendations were: a major overhaul to the design of screening programmes; establishing a single advisory body, bringing together the current functions of the UK National Screening Committee on population screening and NICE on screening for people at elevated risk of serious conditions; and making NHS England the single body responsible for commissioning and delivery of screening services.

The use of polygenic risk scores to ascertain whether an individual is at high or low risk of a wide range of conditions, including cancers and heart disease, was also highlighted as a potential aid for earlier diagnosis by Sir Mike.

Few people currently have had their genomes assessed to enable calculation of polygenic risk scores for common diseases, but this practice is becoming more feasible and more affordable.

The review notes the government’s recent commitment of £79 million to an Accelerated Diagnosis of Disease (ADD) research programme, which will evaluate the use of polygenic risk scores and other tests to identify people at high risk of serious illnesses and new approaches to early detection of disease.

“Professor Sir Mike Richards has recognised the potential of genomic data to ensure earlier detection and treatment of diseases – making a “prevention first” model viable for the first time,” said Professor Sir Peter Donnelly, founder and chief executive of Genomics plc, which is involved in the ADD research. “Such a model with smarter screening should bring revolutionary benefits to both patients and healthcare systems.”