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NHS plans for earlier cancer diagnosis to save lives

Patients are to be given the option to refer themselves for cancer tests, as part of an NHS England bid to diagnose an extra 10% of people early.

NHS plans for earlier cancer diagnosis to save lives

The NHS said it would start testing new ways of speeding up diagnosis, including offering patients the option to book appointments directly with a hospital or testing unit ahead of seeing a GP.

The body will also fund further trials of a pioneering form of radiotherapy.

Currently, around 25% of cancer diagnoses are made too late to save the patients.

The plans are part of a drive to improve cancer survival rates in England, which are below the European average, especially for people over 75.

NHS England says diagnosing 60%, rather than 50%, of people early would mean 8,000 more patients would be alive five years after diagnosis.

This would also result in a fall in the number of cancer diagnoses which have to be made in A&E.

NHS England said it would test the following initiatives:

  • Enabling patients to book their own appointments directly with a hospital diagnostic service or testing unit instead of going to see their GP first
  • Offering patients different types of cancer tests in the same place, on the same day
  • Using community pharmacists to fast-track patients when recurring cancer symptoms are suspected
  • GPs sending patients directly for specific tests, without having to refer to a specialist
  • Better treatments
  • A potentially less damaging and more precise type of radiotherapy, called stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), has been shown to be effective when used to treat certain kinds of lung cancer.

Now NHS England wants to test how well SABR works on other types of cancer, by enrolling 750 patients a year in four new studies.

An NHS cancer taskforce, made up of cancer doctors, patient groups and charity leaders, has also been asked to draw up a five-year action plan for cancer services to make this happen.

Recent figures show that more than one in three people in the UK develop cancer, and half of those will now live for at least 10 years. Forty years ago, the average survival of cancer patients was just one year.

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