Cancer survival rates in the UK have never been higher, however, I am aware that there is still more to be done. The Government is working with the NHS, charities and patient groups to deliver the new cancer strategy developed by the independent Cancer Taskforce. By 2020, everyone urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer will receive either a definitive diagnosis or the all-clear within four weeks.
The £1.2 billion Cancer Drugs Fund has helped over 95,000 people and I continue to support the Government’s commitment to increase NHS spending in England by a minimum of £8 billion in real terms over the next five years.
Bowel Cancer Screening
I appreciate your concerns as I know that bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK. Over eight in ten cases of bowel cancer occur in the over 60s and I agree that early diagnosis is key.
Under the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme in England, people aged 60-74 years old are sent a home testing kit every two years. Those aged above the eligible age limit are also able to self-refer for screening. As part of the Programme, a new test is being introduced which is easier to complete and it is hoped that 200,000 more people per year will take up the opportunity to be screened. An additional one-off bowel scope screening test is also being introduced for those aged 55 years old. As of March 2015, roughly two-thirds of screening centres were offering this test to 55 year olds. This is an important test which can find and remove any small bowel growths, which could turn into cancer.
All hospital trusts are able to offer screening for patients if clinically appropriate. New cancer referral guidelines by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence published in June 2015 state that GPs should refer patients for testing in hospital if they present with relevant symptoms at relevant ages.
It is important that every effort is made to continue raising awareness of breast cancer, and tackle this disease, which has taken so many lives over the years.
In 2015, Public Health England launched Be Clear on Cancer, a national scheme which, I am pleased to say, has significantly improved awareness of breast cancer in women over 70, who account for roughly 1 in 3 cases of breast cancer. Breast cancer survival rates have improved remarkably over the last40 years, and this is testament to the efforts made to raise awareness of, and boost funding into tackling this disease.
I know that ministers are making great efforts to improve cancer services, and ensure that the NHS provides some of the world’s best cancer care. The NHS has launched the National Cancer Programme which is committed to offering uniquely tailored cancer treatment to all patients with breast cancer by 2020 It is working closely with Health Education England and Macmillan Cancer Support to understand the best ways developing and implementing cancer services by the same date.
You may be interested to know that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is updating its guidelines on the diagnosis and management of breast cancer. These guidelines will cover the use of adjuvant bisphosphonates and other cancer drugs, and will be published in July 2018.
I appreciate your concern regarding the age at which mandatory mammograms are offered by the NHS. Mandatory mammograms play a key part in the early diagnosis of breast cancer, which is central to the Government’s ambition of achieving world-class cancer outcomes. The breast cancer screening programme is currently offered to all women between the ages of 50 and 70. You may be encouraged to hear that the NHS is trialling expanding compulsory screening to women aged between 47 and 73. This trial began in 2009 and is expected to run until the mid-2020s, until the NHS has sufficient information to understand its effectiveness. Figures from Cancer Research UK show a significant increase in the incidence of breast cancer in women in their mid-40s, and very low rates of occurrence in those under the age of 30. I believe it is appropriate that the NHS is looking at expanding the screening process, whilst ensuring resources are allocated wisely, and directed towards those women most likely to be at risk of contracting breast cancer.
I believe these developments will significantly improve patient experience and quality of care. The NHS is implementing the independent Cancer Taskforce’s recommendation that all breast cancer patients shall receive access to a Clinical Nurse Specialist, or other key workers. This will enable greater detection of any recurrence or secondary breast cancer, and enable a quick and effective return to care.
Secondary Breast Cancer
I am glad that the Breast Cancer Care campaign, ‘Secondary. Not Second Rate’, is raising awareness of secondary breast cancer, which is estimated to affect 36,000 people in the UK. First launched in 2017, the campaign seeks to ensure that every person living with secondary breast cancer receives the appropriate care and support they require.
I fully support the objective of improved awareness for all cancer symptoms, including ovarian cancer where early diagnosis makes a huge difference in survival. I know this is a priority for the Government which is why Public Health England (PHE) is working with cancer charities to pilot and assess the feasibility of an ovarian cancer audit over the next two years.
In October, the Prime Minister announced that NHS England is introducing Rapid Diagnostic and Assessment Centres which will operate as one-stop shops to reduce time-to diagnosis and time-to-first treatment. This is a real step change in the way people with unclear symptoms are identified, diagnosed and treated.
Young Cancer Patient Travel Fund
I appreciate how distressing it must be for young people, and their families, if they are diagnosed with cancer and it is vital that young people affected by this terrible disease get the care and support they need. Cancer can affect all areas of a person’s life, including finances.
The Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme allows for patients (and in some circumstances their carers) to receive reimbursement for travel if they are receive certain benefits or are on a low income, and if they have been referred to hospital or other NHS premises for specialist NHS treatment.
NHS England has stated that work is underway to review the service specifications for children and young people with cancer services. I understand this will provide an opportunity to consider how some aspects of the patient pathway may be provided more locally to reduce the travel burden for patients and their families. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of the review in due course.