In a new report, the NHS has confirmed they are detecting cancer cases at an earlier stage than ever before.
Last year (2021-2022), the NHS detected cancer in over 100,000 patients at stages one or two when it is easier to treat – the highest proportion on record. Record numbers of people are also getting checked for cancer with almost 500,000 were checked between March 2021 and August 2022, compared to the same period before the pandemic.
Detecting cancer can be done through diagnostic methods, such as imaging, biopsies, genetic testing and specific blood tests. Every type of cancer is detected using various methods.
Dame Cally Palmer, National Cancer Director for the NHS in England, said: “We will not stop in our efforts to catch cancers earlier and save more lives. We know fewer people came forward for cancer checks in the early stages of the pandemic, but thanks to the hard work of staff, we have now identified and caught up on those missing referrals, while more people are being diagnosed at an early stage than ever before – giving patients and their families the best chance of a successful outcome.”
How are the NHS breaking records for detecting cancer?
The record-breaking cancer detection rates follow various national campaigns.
Over the last year, the NHS has worked hard to recover the shortfall in cancer referrals. Now, more than a fifth more people with suspected cancer are being referred every month compared to pre-pandemic levels. Furthermore, one in every four GP referrals is currently for suspected cancer and in August 2022, 255,055 people were checked following an urgent GP referral, which is the highest number since records began.
The NHS is also preparing extensive plans to increase early diagnosis in line with the NHS Long Term plan strategies. This includes initiatives like lung scanning trucks in local communities, high street cancer checks and cancer symptom hotlines.
Additionally, the ‘one stop shops’ are working to help with detecting cancer cases quickly. They have delivered over two million checks and tests since July 2021, including for cancer and other diseases.
Minister for Health Helen Whately, said: “Thanks to the hard work of the NHS, more patients are getting checked for cancer, and getting checked sooner. Early diagnosis means people have a better chance of successful treatment so this increase in cancer checks is really important.
“I want to see these figures continue to improve, especially as we now have 91 new NHS community diagnostic centres open across the country.
“We continue to do all we can to fight cancer including through the targeted lung health check programme, rolling out ways to diagnose more difficult cancers sooner and continuing the successful Help Us Help You symptom awareness campaigns.”
New campaigns driving success in the NHS
The new figures have landed simultaneously with the next phase of the NHS campaign to help people recognise abdominal and urological cancer symptoms, with TV, radio and social media advertisements.
This campaign has previously reached millions of people across the country and resulted in many more people visiting the NHS website for advice on detecting cancer. In the next three weeks, the TV adverts will re-appear across screens, encouraging people to get checked for certain cancer symptoms.
National Clinical Director for Cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, said: “Lives are saved when cancers are caught early and when more people are referred for tests, which is why the NHS has put so much effort into early diagnosis in recent years – and thanks to NHS staff we are making progress on our commitment to catch cancers earlier, when they are easier to treat.
“We know that some people were worried about coming for tests during the pandemic but if you do have any worrying symptoms, please do contact your GP and get checked out.”