04 Jul 2022 Policy

Cancer charities unite in encouraging the Government to address crucial issues as part of their “War on Cancer”

In February this year, the Government declared a “War on Cancer”, and asked individuals and organisations to respond to a call for evidence to inform its 10-Year Cancer Plan in England.

In collaboration with our partners and as part of the One Cancer Voice group, Cancer 52 and Blood Cancer Alliance, we have called on the Government to take account of a wide range of recommendations, including those highlighted below.

In doing so, we hope that the 10-Year Cancer Plan will prioritise the needs of those whose lives are impacted by a cancer diagnosis, including a diagnosis of leukaemia, and help to make the experience of the next person to receive a diagnosis better than the last.

Public Awareness

We know that increasing public awareness of the signs and symptoms of leukaemia is vital to improve early diagnosis. We have highlighted the need to grow initiatives such as the recent NHS “Help Us Help You” campaign, encouraging people to see a GP if they are concerned about cancer.

As part of the Blood Cancer Alliance, we are calling for a national public awareness campaign specific to blood cancer, one of the hardest cancers to spot.

Public awareness campaigns should also take into account existing health inequalities, and be accessible to all groups.

Diagnosis

Early diagnosis is key to effective treatment and improving survival. Despite being the fifth most common cancer, early diagnosis and referrals for blood cancers, including leukaemia, lag behind other cancers.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, leukaemia had one of the highest rates of emergency diagnosis among all cancers (averaging at 37%) than the overall cancer average (21%), showing a lack of leukaemia symptom awareness amongst the public, as well as a need for increased awareness among GPs. Emergency diagnosis is associated with a reduced prospect of survival.

For the 10-Year Cancer Plan to be successful, improving early diagnosis is vital.

Traditionally, national level targets associated with faster diagnosis have focused on stageable cancers. We are calling for early diagnosis targets to be inclusive of non-stageable cancers like leukaemia and other blood cancers as well.

Another important aspect of achieving early diagnosis is ensuring that health and care services are easily accessible to people. We recommend that for some services, the ability to self-refer should be piloted and evaluated. This is particularly necessary for Non-Specific Symptoms Pathways and Rapid Diagnostic Centres, where evidence shows that RDCs have the potential to diagnose blood cancers more quickly than via other routes.

Treatment

As part of One Cancer Voice, we are calling for improved access to certain treatments. For example investment in genetic testing, PET-CT scans and specialist medical practitioners.

Improved Government modelling on staffing would also give a better understanding of capacity requirements for an increase in diagnosis rates.

Research and data

Cancer survival rates have increased greatly over the last forty years thanks to tremendous research and scientific progress. It is vital that this progress continues, to stop cancer devastating lives.

As part of One Cancer Voice, we are calling for a supportive climate for cancer research, with cancer a top priority in the UK’s Research & Development portfolio.

In addition, cancer patients of all ages and backgrounds should be given the opportunity to participate in clinical trials, and as part of the Blood Cancer Alliance, we have highlighted the importance of blood cancer patients having the same access to these as solid tumour patients.

Timely, accessible, and disaggregated data collection is also important for all cancer types and ages. Standardised data collection of blood cancer across the NHS will help deliver a clear definition of ‘blood cancer’ which is consistent across all data sets.

Fiona Hazell, Chief Executive of Leukaemia UK, said:

“The Government’s proposed 10-Year Cancer Plan provides an opportunity to create more ambitious diagnosis, care and treatment objectives for cancer services in general, and blood cancer services in particular.

Especially given the significant impact of the pandemic on cancer services, this is an opportunity that is vital not to be missed. We hope that the proposed plan will prioritise the needs of those whose lives are impacted by leukaemia, and help to make the experience of the next person to receive a diagnosis better than the last.”

We are awaiting the Government’s response to the call for evidence which will be published in the summer.

Last week our Chief Exec spoke to GB news, following a report from Health and Social Care Committee, which highlighted the impact of the pandemic and staff shortages on cancer services in the UK. You can view her interview below.

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