How to improve cancer survival: Explaining England's relatively poor rates

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Cancer survival rates in England are improving, but they still lag behind those in the best-performing countries in the world.

The current government has identified cancer survival rates as an area for improvement and the cancer strategy commits to saving an additional 5,000 lives by 2015, but how can these improvements be achieved?

How to improve cancer outcomes, published in partnership with Cancer Research UK, considers the existing differences in cancer survival rates between countries and discusses the reasons for these variations including: stage at diagnosis and diagnostic delay; treatment factors; patient factors; and tumour biology and physiological/biological factors.

The authors suggest that the most plausible drivers for improved survival rates are:

  • diagnosis at an early stage, including through effective screening programmes
  • access to optimal treatment
  • improvements in the management of older people with cancer.

To achieve these improvements, the NHS and public health need to work together to diagnose more cancers at an early stage and GPs need to use information about their referral rates and use of diagnostics to understand how their performance compares with others. The authors also emphasise the need to reduce variation in access to major surgery and to radiotherapy treatment for cancer and the need to address inequalities in the management of older people with cancer.


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