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Cancer checks double in a decade, NHS figures show

Two months ago, 114,108 more people were checked for signs of the disease than they were in the same month a decade ago.

The number of people receiving potentially life-saving cancer checks in England has doubled in a decade, figures show.

Two months ago, 114,108 more people were checked for signs of the disease than they were in the same month a decade ago, NHS England said.

The health service said it is also treating more and more cancer patients and efforts to encourage people to come forward for checks mean the disease is being diagnosed at an earlier stage.

Advances in treatments and technologies also mean cancer survival rates have steadily risen over the past decade.

In April 2013, there were 103,952 urgent referrals for cancer, which has risen to 218,060 in April 2023, the figures show.

A record 264,391 checks for the illness were carried out last November – up from 107,122 in November 2012.

Before the pandemic, 55% of people were being diagnosed at stages one or two but that has since risen to 57%.

Health chiefs say they have doubled spending on cancer awareness campaigns and continue to encourage people to come forward for checks if they are invited by the NHS or have experienced any worrying symptoms.

To meet the increasing demand, the health service is investing £2.3 billion to expand diagnostics services and £1.5 billion for treatment over the coming years, according to the Government.

Local NHS services have expanded their diagnostic capabilities through one stop shops for tests and mobile clinics, accelerated the roll out of ‘teledermatology’ services and created cancer symptom hotlines to ensure people are diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Since 2021, the NHS has rolled out 108 community diagnostic centres (CDCs) across England to offer more scans, checks and operations as soon as possible.

The latest data shows the centres have carried more than four million additional checks for cancer and other major diseases, the Government said.

Dame Cally Palmer, national cancer director for NHS England, said: “We are committed to checking and diagnosing more cancers at an earlier stage so that we can save more lives.

“There is still a long way to go but the NHS is making great progress in cancer care and advances in diagnosis and treatment have driven an increase in cancer survival rates over the last three decades.

“Due to the hard work of NHS staff and the impact of our public awareness campaigns, last year alone more than 2.8 million people received urgent diagnosis for cancer, with over 328,000 starting treatment and a higher proportion than ever being diagnosed at an early stage – making it a record year for delivering cancer care.

“As the NHS turns 75, it is also continuing to roll out innovations, such as CAR-T therapies and specialist drugs like olaparib for inherited breast and prostate cancers, which are leading the way on care for patients, potentially saving thousands of lives.”

As the population ages, a looming increase in elderly patients with the disease will take place, cancer experts believe.

The NHS Long Term Plan aims to see 55,000 more people each year surviving their cancer for five years or more by 2028 and three quarters of people with the disease being diagnosed at an early stage by the same year.

Charities such as Cancer 52, the common voice for rare and less common cancers, have welcomed the growth in the number of people getting checked.

Chief executive Jane Lyons said: “The faster and earlier cancer is caught, the better chances of treatment and positive outcomes, so all of us who work for cancer patients welcome this sustained year-on-year growth in the number of people getting urgent cancer checks after seeing their GP.

“The NHS needs to expand its capacity to rise to this record level of demand – it is encouraging to see new community diagnostic centres opening and NHS bosses being directed to make sure they’re prioritising suspected cancer patients.”

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