England on course to reduce cancer death rates by one fifth

In collaboration with the Press Association

The Department of Health has published its first annual report on the Cancer Reform Strategy in which it reveals progress on several key priorities.

The strategy - Maintaining momentum, building for the future - was published in December 2007 and outlined a five-year plan for England's cancer services.

Professor Mike Richards, the national cancer director, revealed that there has been a considerable amount of progress during the first year.

Long-term treatment for cancer survivors is being improved, with the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative aiming to ensure that survivors receive integrated, high quality services.

The National Awareness and Early Detection Initiative was successfully launched, which should lead to more cancers being detected earlier.

Other achievements include the introduction of the HPV vaccine, which is designed to protect against the two strains of HPV responsible for more than 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases, and further rollout of the bowel cancer screening programme.

Professor Richards said that cancer treatment has improved "vastly" in recent years and that England is on course to reduce cancer death rates by at least 20 per cent by 2010.

"The proposals that I set out last month in 'Improving access to medicines for NHS patients' will also help to ensure that a greater range of more expensive drugs are made available to more cancer patients on the NHS, reducing their need to seek private drugs," Professor Richards said.

"Together with new proposals from NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence), this will enable patients to have faster access to more lifesaving cancer drugs.

"It is vital that we carry on the progress we have made in the last year and I have identified with the Cancer Reform Strategy board our key priorities for the coming year, including tackling delays in diagnosing cancer and improving the quality and safety of chemotherapy services."

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said that while it is good to see so much improvement in cancer treatment, there is still a "great challenge" ahead.

"We know that cancers are often being picked up too late and we could make an enormous difference if we could speed the process up," he noted.

"We hope that the range of measures we're launching with the national cancer director through the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative will go a long way towards redressing the balance."

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