Beating bowel cancer together

Radical rethink required to close gap on cancer survival between England and other countries

The Health Foundation, in collaboration with Professor Sir Mike Richards, has published a major report assessing progress on cancer care in England over almost two decades. The report looks back to the launch of the NHS Cancer Plan in 2000 and makes recommendations to help close the gap in survival between England and other comparable countries.

Despite persistent ambitions in 2000 to be the best in Europe in successive cancer strategies, the gap in survival rates has not been closed. For example, a person diagnosed with colon cancer in the UK has a 60% chance of survival after five years, compared with 71% for those living in Australia.

Early detection and diagnosis of cancer is critical to improving a person's chances of survival, as early-stage cancer is more responsive to treatment than late stage cancer. Five year survival for bowel cancer is over 90% if caught early, but less than 10% if diagnosed late.

Dr Lisa Wilde, Director of Research and External Affairs for Bowel Cancer UK, says: “It is deeply concerning that the UK has fallen far behind other countries for survival rates of bowel cancer.

“We know early diagnosis is crucial to improving survival rates for bowel cancer. In fact nearly everyone will survive if diagnosed at the earliest stage. The welcomed introduction of a new test, FIT, into the screening programme and the lowering of the screening age to 50 is our best opportunity to realise the Government’s ambition of 75% of cancers diagnosed at stages 1 and 2 by 2028 but without the right number of NHS staff this will remain a pipe dream.

“Bowel Cancer UK continue to call for a fully funded long-term action plan to tackle NHS staff shortages within diagnostic services for bowel cancer. This plan must be comprehensive and set out clear recommendations that address current workforce shortages and allow for future growth.”

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