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Let's beat cancer sooner

Last week’s General Election announcement took a lot of people by surprise.

Soon, usual parliamentary business will be on hold as MPs switch from being sitting members to candidates and return to their constituencies to campaign.

We think cancer should be a key election topic and a focus for any new government. And our priorities for this election are health and science.

Since the publication of England’s Cancer Strategy in 2015 there has been encouraging news for cancer patients. More funding has been announced for diagnostics and new radiotherapy machines. And new cancer alliances have been introduced to improve care on a regional level.

But there’s still a lot more progress to be made.

Last year, we published data predicting that half a million people will be diagnosed with cancer each year by 2035. So the health service has to be ready to deal with the increasing pressure, as well as pushing for better outcomes for patients across the country.

We want to see all the main political parties renew their commitment to England’s cancer strategy. If all the recommendations in the strategy were introduced in full, it could save 30,000 more lives each year in England.

So, as party manifestos are being written and campaigning begins, here are 4 key areas where we want to see political parties act.

1. Cancer prevention

Tackling tobacco and obesity has the potential to relieve huge pressures on the NHS, and secure its future. Tobacco costs the NHS £2bn each year, and obesity costs £5.1bn each year. So investment in public health is essential when budgets will be tight for a new government.

There’s already been some progress here. Just this week parliament passed the sugar tax, to help tackle children’s obesity. But increasing public health cuts have resulted in local Stop Smoking Services being closed, meaning smokers are denied support to help them stop.

We want to see all parties commit to a new Tobacco Control Plan and full implementation of the Childhood Obesity Strategy. But we’d also like to see more ambitious moves to tackle childhood obesity, including restrictions on junk food marketing.

2. Earlier diagnosis

Diagnosing cancer at the earliest stages is key to giving patients the best chance of survival.

A cancer diagnosis often involves tests and scans. And for those to happen, the NHS needs the right staff in place. This poses a problem: the NHS doesn’t have enough people who are trained to perform these important diagnostic tests.

By 2020 the NHS will need to do more than 750,000 extra endoscopies (tests used to diagnose gastrointestinal cancers) every year – more than the population of Leeds. So we want to see more people trained to carry out these diagnostic tests.

That means more endoscopists, radiologists and pathologists to help match the demand that’s already weighing heavy on the NHS.

3. Treatment

Every patient should be able to have the best, evidence-based treatment for them. We’ve seen some progress this year, with the Cancer Drugs Fund being transformed and funding for new radiotherapy machines.

But patients need more.

The Accelerated Access Review, published last October, outlined some promising ways to change the way drugs are priced, which could help make sure new treatments get to patients sooner. In this election, we want to see parties commit to the recommendations in the review.

4. Making research a top priority in Brexit negotiations

The UK must continue to invest in world-class research to improve how cancer patients are diagnosed and treated. That’s because scientific collaboration between the UK, Europe and beyond plays a vital part in the discoveries that benefit patients everywhere.

Our Chief Clinician, Peter Johnson, recently blogged about our priorities now Brexit negotiations are underway, saying research can’t happen without the brilliant staff across our centres, institutes and in the NHS.

Almost half (46%) of our PhD students, and half of our researchers, are from outside the UK. So as the UK leaves the EU it’s important that the UK can still attract, recruit and retain the best scientists, irrespective of where they are from. It’s also vital that researchers in the UK can collaborate across the world. So we need parties to push for an immigration system that allows this to continue.

It’s also important that the UK sends a clear and positive message to researchers already working in the UK, to show how much we value them. This includes protecting their rights to live and work in the UK, as well as the rights of their partners and dependents.

What you can do to help

If the next government is serious about giving people the best possible chance of surviving cancer, it will need to consider how best to support the NHS and research.

From mid-May, we’ll be asking supporters to email their election candidates to tell them about our priorities. But in the meantime, share this post and help us keep cancer high on the political agenda.

Rose Gray is a policy advisor at Cancer Research UK

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