Early Detection and Diagnosis of Cancer Roadmap

Interconnected scientific imagery representing key themes within the early detection and diagnosis of cancer roadmap

We're calling on everyone from researchers, to regulators, patients and the NHS to integrate fragmented efforts to realise a future where early detection and diagnosis is a routine reality.


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Early Detection and Diagnosis of Cancer: a Roadmap to the Future

If we are to beat cancer, early detection and diagnosis is arguably the single most important and impactful objective we can have. Patients diagnosed early have the best chance of curative treatment and long-term survival. Despite this, only 55% of cancers are currently detected early in England, for example. There is a pressing need to see a paradigm shift in our ability to accurately detect and diagnose cancer at an early stage to transform health outcomes, in a field beset by scientific and health system challenges. 

Derived from extensive consultation across the early detection and diagnosis ecosystem, the Early Detection and Diagnosis of Cancer Roadmap aims to unite fragmented efforts across the UK to drive progress in early detection and diagnosis. This Roadmap:  

  • Articulates a shared vision, from discovery to implementation, for a long-term future where early detection and diagnosis of all cancers is a routine reality, as part of a shift towards proactive health management.  

  • Highlights the current challenges impeding progress and makes tangible recommendations for research, development, health system delivery and government policy on how to overcome these challenges to realise the shared vision. 

  • Endorses efforts to ensure early detection and diagnosis is delivered ethically, equitably and transparently throughout the UK with extensive involvement with patients and the public.  

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Uniting behind a shared Roadmap

Michelle Mitchell headshot

Now is the time for action. We need to shift the UK’s entire health system from firefighting symptomatic disease in patients to proactively managing their health and wellbeing. This roadmap shows how government, industry, charities and researchers can unify their efforts and deliver solutions that could save lives on a huge scale. This requires a massive shift in our thinking. If we get it right, early detection and diagnosis of cancer could be a game-changer for patients, revolutionising their health outcomes, with the real potential for extending and saving lives.

— Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK

Roadmap recommendations and timeline

Timeline of the roadmap recommendations

Policy recommendations

To address the cross-cuting barriers of early detection and diagnosis research, the UK government and devolved nations’ equivalents should:

1. Make early detection and diagnosis a central tenet of the UK research and development roadmap

2. Address the market failure in early detection and diagnosis

3. Invest in health service capacity for early detection and diagnosis delivery and research

4. Accelerate quality, ethical collection and access to patient data for early detection and diagnosis

5. Explore a new model of health-check centres for asymptomatic public

6. Create a system of leadership and accountability for early detection and diagnosis

Putting it into perspective

Terry Kavanagh, Patient Representative

"The impact early detection and diagnosis would have for patients would be phenomenal. Consider hospital visits, hospital stays, not to mention the anxiety, effect on the family and getting back to work, so much of this can be avoided; early detection and diagnosis can give patients their lives back."

Terry Kavanagh, Patient Representative


Insights from industry

Billy Boyle, CEO, Owlstone Medical

"The company I had founded at Cambridge was developing a sensor technology to detect toxic chemicals and explosives. We started working with academic researchers to see if the same technology could be used to detect the chemical markers of lung cancer on a patient's breath. From the encouraging initial data, we decided to further develop this Breath Biopsy technology.  Despite the risks, challenges and uncertainty, early detection is a problem that must be solved."

Billy Boyle, CEO, Owlstone Medical 

Susan Galbraith, SVP Early Oncology, AstraZeneca

"It is clear that detecting cancers at an earlier stage gives the best chance of successful treatment. Consequently, a new model is needed for early detection and diagnosis, which not only has the potential to save many lives, but may also create a significant new business model and sector of investment, development and commercialisation."

Susan Galbraith, SVP Early Oncology, AstraZeneca

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