CCHSR annual lecture explores what can be done to improve cancer survival rates in the UK

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16 November 2020

Although cancer survival in England has improved steadily over the past 20 years, survival rates for most types of cancer continue to lag behind those in other developed countries. We have failed to close the gap. But why is this? And more importantly, what can be done?

The year’s CCHSR lecture was given by eminent cancer specialist Professor Sir Mike Richards, who discussed the importance of early screening and diagnosis for improving cancer survival rates in the UK.

Richards identified two major factors contributing to the survival gap: late diagnosis and poor treatment. Previous studies have shown that despite very similar beliefs about cancer across countries, British people are less likely to visit the GP, and GPs are less likely to refer patients. The UK diagnostic services also need improving, as inadequate wait times, scanning capacity and workforce numbers have reached a tipping point. Factors such as improving diagnostic and screening services and developing new approaches could go a long way to decreasing the survival gap, and help the NHS reach its goal of diagnosing 75% of cancers in stage 1 or 2 before 2028. If we could match other countries, Richards stated, we could save between 5,000-10,000 lives every year.

Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, Interim Director of the MRC Cancer Unit, also gave insights on the matter and acknowledged the role of COVID-19 in opening opportunities to implement AI and digital technologies.

(Professor Fitzgerald's response, as well as a moderated Q&A session, can be viewed in Part 2 of the recording.)

Professor Sir Mike Richards trained as a medical oncologist at St Bartholomew's, before specialising mainly in breast cancer at Guy’s and St Thomas’. In 1999 he was appointed as the first National Cancer Director, where he was responsible for developing and overseeing the implementation of cancer strategy in England over a 13-year period. In 2013 he was appointed Chief inspector of Hospitals at the Care Quality Commission. Following his retirement in 2017 he renewed his interest in cancer, writing a report with the Health Foundation entitled ‘Unfinished Business’.