Detecting cancer earlier could prevent more than 4,000 premature deaths a year across the UK, according to some estimates.
Last week, we discussed the importance of early diagnosis with Welsh Assembly members in Cardiff. It was a great opportunity to talk about why recognising cancer symptoms and early diagnosis is important in improving outcomes for patients in Wales.
It was a busy lunchtime event, with around 15 Members coming along to hear about Wales’ cancer survival rates, which remain poorer than in other comparable European countries.
This may be for a number of reasons, including a lack of knowledge of the signs and symptoms of cancer among both the public and medical professionals, a reluctance to seek medical advice or lack of access to diagnostic tests.
This can result in GPs failing to spot the signs of cancer and failing to refer patients to specialists, resulting in cancer being diagnosed at a later stage – when treatments can be less successful.
We also heard some powerful testimonies from patients who attended the event. They urged us all to see our GP if we noticed anything different or recognised any symptom that could be cancer.
We were especially keen to talk to Assembly Members about what needs to be done to improve early diagnosis of cancer in Wales. As we discussed last month, the Welsh Government has drawn up a new Cancer Delivery Plan for the NHS which prioritises ‘Detecting Cancer Quickly’. This is great news. Together Against Cancer gives Local Health Boards responsibility for raising awareness among the public and health professionals of the risks and symptoms of cancer, and how to act promptly and appropriately on this knowledge.
But we want the Welsh Government to prioritise and champion the earlier diagnosis of cancer at a national level, and centrally co-ordinate this. This will allow national guidance to be developed to ensure that work in this area is given equal priority across the whole of Wales.
In particular, we want to see a commitment to dedicated action to improve early diagnosis in Wales, similar to the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative in England, and the Detect Cancer Early programme in Scotland. These two national initiatives are helping to co-ordinate and provide support to activities that promote the earlier diagnosis of cancer. Wales needs to do the same.
We know that lives could be saved if cancer was diagnosed and treated earlier in Wales. So we are urging all Members to write to the Health Minister Lesley Griffiths asking for early diagnosis to be prioritised.
Emily Arkell is a policy manager at Cancer Research UK