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Cancer Survival Rates: Government Claims Figures Up By Almost 10%

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According to new figures publicised by the Government recently, overall cancer survival rates have risen by nearly 10%.

Based on a publication by NHS England which looks at data from 2005-2020, improvements have been made in one-year survival rates as this has risen 9% to 74.6%. Currently, ¾ of people survive their cancer the first year after being diagnosed. The publication takes into account the type of cancer, for example, the one-year breast cancer survival index is around 97% while for bowel cancer it is above 80%, and child cancer survival rates are over 86%. The location of where the patient resides is also taken into consideration.

In response to the new survival rate data, Health Minister Helen Whately stated “These figures are highly encouraging and support those released earlier this year which show improved survival rates across almost all types of cancer. They are evidence of the great strides being made by the NHS, scientists and our incredible cancer charities”.

The data on survival rates that NHS England provides is measured against the survival rate of the general population.

Background

In the UK, the NHS has targets for cancer waiting times to ensure that patients receive access to diagnosis and treatment. The following are some key waiting time targets for cancer appointments in the NHS:

  • Referral from a GP to a specialist: The NHS aims for patients with suspected cancer to be seen by a specialist within 2 weeks of being referred by their GP.
  • First treatment following diagnosis: The NHS aims for patients to start their first definitive treatment within 31 days of diagnosis, if this is clinically appropriate.
  • Subsequent treatment following diagnosis: The NHS aims for patients to start treatment for their cancer within 62 days of their GP referral, if this is clinically appropriate.

The government claims cancer diagnosis and treatment remained a top priority throughout the pandemic, with more than 7.3 million urgent referrals and over 1.6 million people receiving cancer treatment between March 2020 and January 2023. Moreover, since July 2021, NHS England has recorded the opening of 94 community diagnostic centres which have delivered 3.3 million checks, tests, and scans as now more than ever, people are taking up screening opportunities. Across England, 15 million people have been invited for cancer screening in the past year.

“We are laser focused on fighting cancer on all fronts – prevention, diagnosis, treatment, research and funding – and have opened over 94 ‘one stop shops’ so people can have quicker access to tests, scans and checks. We know there is more to do and early diagnosis is crucial to improving survival rates even further. Our ambition is to diagnose 75% of cancer at an early stage by 2028 which will help save tens of thousands of lives for longer. NHS England’s early diagnosis strategy has 6 core elements including raising awareness of cancer symptoms and encouraging people to come forward as well as implementing targeted interventions for particular cancer types which are traditionally difficult to diagnose”

Helen Whately

The reality of cancer survival rates

Although targets for cancer patient treatment are established, they are frequently unmet, and the waiting times vary based on factors such as cancer type and resource availability. In 2022, 30,000 people were waiting for cancer treatment. Moreover, a recent report from the House of Commons public accounts committee revealed a “shocking gap in cancer care” as less than 3% of England’s NHS trusts met key waiting-time targets last year for patients to receive treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral.

The report also indicated that waiting times were at their worst recorded level. Out of 125 hospital trusts analysed, only three were able to treat 85% of patients within 62 days following an urgent referral in 2022. Some trusts have failed to meet the standard for at least eight years. The data reveals that over 66,000 patients waited more than two months for their initial treatment after a referral last year.

Moreover, Cancer Research has demonstrated how one-year cancer survival rates for certain types of cancer can differ greatly to five-year survival rates. Although cancer survival has doubled in the last 40 years, and the five-year survival index for lung cancer is around 19%, while colorectal cancer is 58%, and ovarian cancer is 44%.

Final Thought

The progress made in increasing one-year survival rates is something to celebrate. However, it is important to remember that many NHS Trusts are unable to provide adequate care to cancer patients due to limited resources and funding. Basing claims purely off one-year survival rates data can also be interpreted as misleading and overgeneralised.  

This post relates to Curia’s NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission. To get involved and find out more, visit: https://chamberuk.com/nhs-innovation-and-life-sciences-commission/

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