The ACE programme

ACE seeks to develop the knowledge base on early diagnosis in order to identify and evaluate good practice, which can reduce system delays and improve early diagnosis of cancer. ACE supports the NHS outcome 'preventing people from dying prematurely'.

The ACE programme: accelerates progress, coordinates implementation and consistently evaluates best practice and innovative approaches to early diagnosis of cancer. 

Wave 1 of the ACE programme has produced several reports and individual project outputs. Read these and more about the 54 projects within Wave 1 on our Clusters page.

Wave 2

The ACE Programme is piloting a new diagnostic pathway, for patients with ‘non-specific but concerning symptoms’, which incorporates a Multidisciplinary Diagnostic Centre (MDC).

Learn more

Programme reports and clusters

About ACE

The ACE programme aims to develop the knowledge base on early diagnosis by evaluating and sharing good practice, to inform future commissioning of cancer services.

ACE has two key aims: help NHS organisations implement best practice, including identifying and tacking system blocks, and test innovative ideas such as streamlining current pathways and developing new pathways for vague but concerning symptoms.

ACE seeks to drive:

  • A shift from late to early diagnosis of cancer at stages I & II
  • A decrease in cancer diagnoses via emergency presentations
  • Improvements in overall patient experience

For more information about how the ACE programme was developed, please download this PDF.

ACE structure and funding

ACE programme structure

The Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) for the ACE programme is the NHS England National Clinical Director for Cancer, Chris Harrison. The programme is in the NHS England Early Diagnosis work stream which reports to the Cancer Transformation Board. Rosie Loftus, joint Chief Medical Officer represents Macmillan on the Cancer Transformation Board.


ACE is funded by Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, NHS England and the Department of Health's Policy Research Units. As ACE provides only limited financial support to projects, the majority of project funding has come from local, mostly NHS sources.

For more information on ACE funding, please download this PDF.

Why ACE?

England lags behind comparable European countries when it comes to cancer outcomes including one- and five-year survival rates, more details of which can be found in the international cancer benchmarking initiative.

One key factor for poorer cancer outcomes is late diagnosis, namely too many patients being diagnosed at later stages of cancer when treatment options can be limited, more onerous for the patient, and may no longer be curative. Improving early diagnosis therefore has the potential to drastically improve cancer outcomes.

Late stage diagnosis happens for a number of reasons including late presentation by patients and system delays including in referral to secondary care or for diagnostic tests. The ACE programme focuses on addressing system delays including the development and evaluation of new streamlined diagnostic pathways.

Other initiatives, such as 'Be Clear on Cancer', seek to raise public awareness and understanding of the signs and symptoms of cancer, to encourage people to present to their GP when they first notice symptoms that may be cancer.