Cancer organisations and specialists are being asked to shape what cancer diagnosis and treatment in England will look like in 2032

Cancer cells

Cancer organisations and specialists are being asked to contribute suggestions on how the NHS in England can improve diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, has appealed for evidence to inform a new 10-year cancer plan expected this summer.

The ambition is to incorporate innovations brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and identify other ideas for improving cancer services.

Waging war on cancer 

In a speech delivered at the Francis Crick Institute on World Cancer Day (4 February 2022), Mr Javid said that he wanted to ‘declare a national war on cancer’ through a programme designed to lead the world in cancer care.

In building on the NHS long term plan, Mr Javid said that he wanted to:

  • increase the number of early-stage cancer diagnoses, including by intensifying research on new early diagnostic tools
  • boost the oncology workforce in the NHS
  • tackle disparities and inequalities in access to care and time to treatment
  • intensify research on mRNA vaccines and therapeutics for cancer by supporting industry to develop new cancer treatments that combine expertise in cancer immunotherapy and vaccine capabilities developed during the pandemic
  • improve cancer prevention by tackling major risk factors.

Mr Javid said: ‘This plan will show how we are learning the lessons from the pandemic and apply them to improving cancer services over the next decade.

‘It will take a far-reaching look at how we want cancer care to be in 2032—10 years from now. Looking at all stages, from prevention, to diagnosis, to treatment, and vaccines.’

The Health Secretary acknowledged the impact that the pandemic has had on cancer care, with 50,000 fewer cancer diagnoses in the UK, including 34,000 in England between March 2020 and November 2021.

However, he praised NHS staff for ensuring that cancer treatment was maintained at 94% of pre-pandemic levels—95% of people starting treatment did so within a month of referral.

Cally Palmer, National Cancer Director for the NHS, said: ‘Despite the pandemic and thanks to the huge efforts of our staff, cancer services have remained a priority, with well over 2 million checks in the last year alone and tens of thousands of people starting life-saving treatment every month.

‘From one-stop shops for vital checks [to] revolutionary treatment options like proton beam therapy, we will continue to go further and faster in our mission to save more lives and ensure England is world leading in cancer care.’

Technological advances 

The DHSC has said that it wants to build on the latest scientific advances, such as the Galleri trial, which is evaluating a blood test to identify biomarkers for cancer risk.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies also have the potential to improve cancer risk assessment, it said.

Improving the cancer workforce could be addressed by developing new roles, alongside training and upskilling the current workforce.

The DHSC said that a useful development during the pandemic has been the roll-out of nearly 160 ‘faster diagnosis pathways’, in which patients with worrying symptoms can be quickly assessed by a GP. These will be available across England by 2024, reducing pressure on hospitals and helping the NHS to make progress on the backlog of cases.

The call for evidence will run for 8 weeks, and is open to any organisation, as well as individuals aged 16 years and over.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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Lead image: Giovanni Cancemi/stock.adobe.com

Image 1: Giovanni Cancemi/stock.adobe.com