Cancer Research UK chief executive reminds Conservative party conference of cancer priorities

In collaboration with the Press Association

The UK needs to maintain a focus on the prevention and early diagnosis of cancer, Harpal Kumar, chief executive officer of Cancer Research UK, told the Conservative party conference this week.

Mr Kumar was invited to speak to party members about the state of cancer care and research in the UK and key priorities for the future.

He told the conference that there has been "huge progress" against cancer over the past 30 years, with survival rates doubling since the 1970s thanks to the hard work of doctors, nurses and scientists.Three quarters of childhood cancer patients now survive the illness, along with more than 95 per cent of men with testicular cancer.

Almost two-thirds of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer are also likely to survive for at least 20 years.

However, while Mr Kumar welcomed the many advances in recent years, he also cautioned against complacency.

"Even though one in three of us will get cancer at some point in our lives, it's no longer the death sentence it once was ... But cancer remains only a partial success story," he noted.

"While half of all people diagnosed with the disease survive their cancer for at least five years, the other half do not. And for some cancers, the survival rate is still appallingly low.

"Nine out of ten people diagnosed with a lung, pancreatic or oesophageal cancer die within five years.

"In all, 155,000 people lose their lives to cancer every year. That number would more than fill both the Old Trafford and Eastlands football stadia here in Manchester every year.

"So there's no room for complacency in cancer."

Mr Kumar said that continued investment is needed in screening, diagnosis, surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy in order for research to be translated into patient benefit.

While the research that is carried out in the UK is world-class, patient outcomes are still not on a par with the best of the world.

For this reason, Mr Kumar said that the UK "can and should do better".

"In a world-class NHS, any second class cancer service should not be acceptable," he argued.

"We need to be rigorous in measuring and improving outcomes at every level of cancer service, ensuring that our NHS is absolutely focused on bringing our outcomes up to the best in Europe, for the whole population."

Mr Kumar said that the main problem is that cancer tends to be diagnosed at a later stage in the UK than in some other countries.

This may be due to a number of reasons - people leaving it too late to visit their GP or not attending screening, or GPs failing to spot the possible signs and symptoms of cancer.

He said that while the UK must remain one of the best research hubs in the world, "we also want the next government to commit to making earlier diagnosis of cancer a major priority, to increase survival and to save thousands of lives every year".

People need to be encouraged to attend screening or visit their doctor for tests in order to save lives and reduce the high costs associated with treating advanced cancer.

"Earlier diagnosis could save more lives from breast cancer, lung cancer, bowel cancer, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer and many others," Mr Kumar said.

"We have a tremendous health service. But with concerted effort, it could do much more to save lives from cancer.

"The next government has a real opportunity to do just that. And with earlier diagnosis, we will achieve results not just over the next 30 years, but within the next parliament."

The CEO also thanked the public for their continuing donations and fundraising efforts, without which the UK's "amazing" progress would not be possible.

He insisted: "This entire nation and politicians of all parties owe them a deep debt of gratitude."

This speech comes a week after Mr Kumar interviewed Gordon Brown about Labour's plans to improve cancer services. You can read this interview here.