Improvements in cancer survival slowing

Diagnosing cancer at earlier stages

Governments must make concerted efforts to ensure more people are diagnosed at earlier stages when they are more likely to survive their cancer.  

In England, currently only around 54% of cancers with a known stage are diagnosed early (stages 1 and 2), and we are not on track to meet NHS England’s ambition for 75% of cancers to be diagnosed early by 2028.  

Screening can help prevent cancers developing as well as detect cancers at an early stage, and it is estimated that in the UK over 5,000 lives are saved by the cancer screening programmes each year.  

However, screening participation varies across population groups, and in recent years there has been an overall decline in the uptake of breast and cervical screening.  

We need to take action to tackle barriers to participation and to ensure everyone eligible who wants to take up the offer of cancer screening can do so.  

Moreover, timely help-seeking can increase chances of an early diagnosis. But currently, although people recognise many common cancer symptoms, too many don’t contact a doctor if they experience them.  

Governments across the UK should make a commitment to sustained, multi-year funding for public awareness campaigns that promote positive health behaviours.  

Accelerating improvements in survival rates through research  

Much of the progress we have seen in cancer survival in the UK since the 1970s can be attributed to developments in research.  

If we are to speed up improvements in survival, we must cement the UK’s position as a world leader in cancer research. But this will require the next UK Government to exhibit strong political leadership by setting out funding for cancer research over the next decade, including a plan to close the more than £1bn funding gap.  

In addition, more should be done to translate research into real-world applications, through strengthening clinical research environments within health systems and ensuring that the latest innovations reach patients quickly.  

Our ambition for the next UK Government

With hard won progress in recent decades at risk of stalling, today’s report provides a stark reminder for why it’s more important than ever that cancer is a top priority for all UK political parties ahead of this year’s general election.  

The challenges facing cancer are significant and complex, but we know what needs to be done to address them.  

In November 2023, we published Longer, better lives which sets out how the next UK Government can deliver for cancer, with the overall ambition of avoiding 20,000 cancer deaths per year by 2040. 

“Cancer survival in the UK is at the highest point it’s ever been, which shows that together, we’re making progress on beating cancer,” says Michelle Mitchell, our chief executive. 

“It’s worrying that the rate of improvement has slowed in recent years though, and cancer patients today face anxious and historically long waits for tests and treatments.   

“Almost one in two people across the UK will get cancer in their lifetime. The number of new cases each year is growing. Beating cancer requires real political leadership and must be a priority for all political parties ahead of a General Election.”   

With real political will, investment and reform, we can deliver long-term solutions to the long-term problems facing cancer research and care and help everyone lead longer, better lives, free from the fear of cancer. 

 *The analysis was commissioned by the charity from the Cancer Survival Group at London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) 

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