Prevention and early diagnosis
The panel set out the progress made in prevention and early diagnosis in the last few years, and what they think needs to happen in the future. This was followed by questions and discussion from the audience.
The panel stated that cancer rates are increasing, placing a huge financial burden on the country. To address this, prevention needs to improve as it is the most cost-effective strategy for the control of cancer. Up to half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle such as stopping smoking, which is still the biggest cause of cancer. Although much progress has been made in tobacco control, there is more to be done.
Delegates also heard that public recognition of preventative measures is not good and that raising awareness does not change behaviour in itself, but it is a first step. A clear opportunity lies in the Government’s evident commitment to public health. With local authorities now given responsibility for public health, there is an opportunity to tackle the wider determinants of health.
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK
Looking at early diagnosis, up to 10,000 lives would be saved in the UK each year if our survival rates matched the best in Europe. However, delegates heard that it was not entirely clear as to why the best in Europe perform better than the UK. There is currently an international cancer benchmarking study looking at why the differences in survival rates between different countries exist (which includes Sweden, Wales, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Australia, Northern Ireland and England).
Furthermore, primary care is not good at identifying cancer in teenagers when they present with symptoms. In a survey of teenagers with cancer, 34% said they went to their GP more than five times before they were referred to a specialist.
National Cancer Director, Professor Sir Mike Richards, says that early diagnosis is, 'The next big thing that needs to be tackled after smoking.' The Government’s commitment to measuring outcomes and using data to drive change represents a key opportunity for improvement in the coming years.
What needs to happen next?
The Government needs to:
Ensure that prevention is at the heart of the NHS and social care
Support the education of children on the prevention and signs and symptoms of cancer
Ensure that collection of staging data at diagnosis is a priority for the revised cancer strategy.
The cancer community needs to: