THE context is critical to today’s perturbing report on cancer survival rates – and the extent to which treatment in Britain can still lag behind other high-income countries.
Just a handful of decades ago, the diagnosis of cancer was a ‘death sentence’ for many. Today, thanks to advances in medicine, most sufferers continue to lead long – and fulfilling – lives.
Yet this research shows that improvements to treatment have not kept pace with the progress made by comparable countries – even more so when it comes to bowel, lung and also pancreatic cancer.
And this survival gap is explained, in part, by delays identifying this cruel disease before it is too late for some victims – a point which has been made by John Butler, clinical adviser to Cancer Research UK, in his candid analysis.
As such, it must be hoped that Matt Hancock – the Health and Social Care Secretary who switched sides over Brexit in order to keep his Cabinet job – is not too distracted by the current political turmoil to take stock of this report.
It makes the case for additional medical research being undertaken by Britain’s universities – it emerged this week that a simple blood test for prostate cancer might, potentially, cut the number of men needing invasive biopsies and subsequent treatment.
It means that the new NHS investment must be spent on frontline care. A key test will be the number of specialist cancer staff who are recruited in the coming years.
Finally, it shows that GP services do matter. For many, the local doctor is the gateway to the NHS. And if individuals continue to be put off obtaining an appointment because of ever-lengthening waiting times, it could, ultimately, become a matter of life and death for them. That is why the Minister needs to take this report as seriously, if not more so, than Brexit and his ever changing diagnosis.