We Can Cross Out Cancer

During my time as a candidate I have received most emails about crossing out cancer.  Given the news on Wednesday that the lifetime risk of getting cancer has increased to 1/2 that is perhaps not surprising.   However since it is a disease of which I have mercifully had very little direct experience I needed to understand the issues facing prevention and treatment better.

Thankfully, a wonderful local Cancer Research UK Ambassador, Sue Duncombe, got in touch and offered to give me a briefing.  Sue does an extraordinary amount to help Cancer Research UK’s work and I was extremely grateful for her time and insight.  Sue took me through the background and key objectives of the Cross Cancer Out campaign.  The main focus of the campaign is to increase early diagnosis, particularly through bowel cancer screening, to give equal access to advanced radiotherapy and surgery, and to make best and most efficient use of the Cancer Drugs Fund.

I have pledged my full support to the campaign.

The figures on early diagnosis are particularly striking.  For lung cancer patients a 25% chance of survival after 5 years if diagnosed at stage 1, can diminish to less than 1% if diagnosed at stage 4.  On bowel cancer, a 9/10 survival rate drops to 1/10.  Bowel cancer is a particular focus because there is a national screening process in place, yet only 50-60% of people take advantage of screening. The campaign aims to increase that by 10%.

Lib Dems in government have worked hard to improve diagnosis. £450m has been committed to support earlier diagnosis through improving public awareness of and GP access to key diagnostic tests and paying for extra testing and treatment in secondary care.  The Coalition Government has also committed over £170m to expand and improve all cancer screening programmes, including extending the age range for the NHS Bowel Screening programme to men and women up to their 75th birthday.

Radiotherapy has been proven to be a potent way to treat cancer if caught at the right stage – effective in 4/10 cases when a cure is achieved.  Cancer Research UK’s campaign to increase access to IMRT (targeted radiotherapy) is a sensible and cost-efficient long-term approach to treatment.  Also when surgery is the best option it should be made available to all patients, regardless of age.

The main obstacles to achieving these aims are the lack of funding and (linked to funding) staff available to carry out the treatment.  That is why we need to invest in the NHS to improve staffing levels in line with Simon Stevens’ five year plan for the service.

The Lib Dems have set out a plan to provide the required £8bn a year by 2020 that Mr Stevens has identified as the shortfall.  This additional cash will support more staff to deliver radiotherapy and surgery as we move towards in Cancer Research UK’s objectives.    It will take time, but the Lib Dems have made the necessary long term commitment to make it happen.

If we combine the Lib Dem commitment to funding with Cancer Research UK’s objectives, I am confident that we can do a huge amount during this election campaign to help cross out cancer.

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