UK strategy to improve cancer services

15 January 2007

The UK government has published a five-year cancer strategy focussing on prevention and improving services. The major actions involve:

  • encouraging changes to lifestyle — such as avoiding smoking, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption;
  • earlier diagnosis through screening, especially for cervical, breast and bowel cancer; and
  • better treatment through surgery, radiotherapy and drug treatment.

Over £500m has been invested in additional and replacement equipment for cancer in recent years, including 167 new linacs for radiotherapy. Despite this, the number per unit of population is still low compared to other European countries, therefore additional radiotherapy equipment will be needed in many parts of the country. Also, despite investment in training, there is still a shortage of radiographers and a long-term workforce strategy is needed.

The report acknowledges that proton therapy is a promising new technology, giving precise treatment and avoiding damage to non-cancerous tissue, but there is only one facility in the whole of the UK, and that is limited to eye treatment. From April 2008 other facilities for proton therapy will be commissioned by the National Commissioning Group and the Department of Health "will consider" options for providing proton therapy services.

The number of drugs licensed for cancer treatment is growing rapidly, as is the expenditure on the new types of drugs. However, problems were identified in delays in approval of new drugs, including variability in the use of approved drugs across the country and poor planning for chemotherapy services in some areas.

The government will be investing £250m in capital equipment for cancer services over the next three years. The revenue costs of the strategy are expected to be around £450m by 2010/11. However, the NHS is expected to be able to make savings of £320m by per annum by that time, mainly through eliminating unnecessary hospital admissions for cancer patients.

Clinical Director of Cancer Services Mike Richards said: "We have made good progress on cancer over the past 10 years thanks to the efforts of many people throughout the NHS and voluntary sector.

"However, we know there is much more to be done. The commitments in the Cancer Reform Strategy will enable us to develop world-class cancer services in this country, saving more lives and ensuring patients get the care they deserve."

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of the charity Macmillan Cancer Support , said: "Cancer patients are being diagnosed and treated much quicker today. As a result, more people are surviving the disease. The challenge now is to help these growing numbers live with the long-term medical, emotional and financial effects of cancer. Macmillan welcomes the new Cancer Reform Strategy and the strong emphasis it places on improving patients' quality of life."

The University of Surrey welcomed the new strategy but said that "it is extremely sad that the UK currently has no plans for the newest type of radiotherapy which uses charged particles rather than x-rays. This exciting new generation of radiotherapy, which delivers more damage to the tumour and much less to the surrounding healthy tissue, will especially benefit children and tumours that are more difficult to treat with conventional (photon) radiotherapy. A report on particle therapy was submitted to HMG by the National Radiotherapy Advisory Group (NRAG) last year.

"The UK is in an excellent position to take advantage of particle therapy as there are excellent networks both on the clinical side (ACORRN) and between clinicians scientists and engineers (EPSRC Research Network on Biomedical Applications of High Energy Ion Beams). Moreover, the research infrastructure to take this research from bench to bedside is already in place, via the Wolfson Nanobeam Project at the University of Surrey and recent funding through the Research Councils Basic Technology programme (CONFORM and LIBRA) for the next generation of particle therapy machines, which aim to develop the next generation of ion sources for particle therapy."

The UK Cancer Reform Strategy is available from:

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