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Sharon Hodgson MP

Sharon Hodgson is a Labour MP and the Shadow Minister for Public Health, which includes cancer care. This means she is responsible for the Labour Party position on how to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. We asked Sharon about what she wants to do to help beat cancer sooner.

What would you do to tackle cancer?

The NHS cancer workforce do an incredible job and we should never stop thanking them for the work they do to diagnose, treat and care for cancer patients.

That is why it’s important that workforce concerns are made a top priority of any government, so that staff have the capacity to diagnose and treat patients and achieve the vision set out in England’s Cancer Strategy.

This includes addressing staff shortages so we can improve diagnosis, treatment, care and outcomes.

How would you help more people survive cancer in the future, and with the best possible quality of life?

Early diagnosis is vital, so raising awareness of cancer symptoms, and supporting effective referral amongst medical and healthcare professionals and encouraging the general public to act if they spot anything unusual is very important.

There also needs to be a rethink about the way we look at access to cancer drugs, which is something I have campaigned on in my former role as Co-Chair of the Breast Cancer All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and in my role as Chair of the Ovarian Cancer APPG, where we are looking at better diagnostics and treatments to help save lives.

There also needs to be a discussion about support and care for people after cancer, and that’s why I believe we need to seriously consider life beyond cancer to ensure people live the best possible life they can.

Tobacco and obesity are the biggest preventable risk factors for cancer. What would you do to tackle these issues?

I have always been a strong supporter of the principle that prevention is key to tackling cancer.

Whilst there is no silver bullet, I do believe there is more we could be doing to reduce the prevalence of cancer through prevention. Particularly for those cancers caused by smoking and obesity.

One such example is by introducing restrictions on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed, so we can end the bombardment of junk food adverts which have become ever-more present on our TV screens. We believe this will help tackle childhood obesity, which is vital if we’re to reduce the number of adults who are obese and at an increased risk of cancer.

During my time as Shadow Minister for Public Health, I have also called for a rethink on the approach to public health funding, which, as we know, is having a serious impact on services that help improve our nation’s health. Stop Smoking Services are among those that are affected by challenges in public health funding, and a fix is needed to make sure people looking to quit can continue to access support to give them the best possible chance of stopping.

Early diagnosis saves lives – what would you do to help diagnose cancers at an earlier stage?

The symptoms for many cancers can be tricky to spot or put down to less serious conditions, this is where I think improved education comes into play.

For me, it’s important that GPs are better equipped with the knowledge of cancer symptoms and referral pathways, especially for the less common or rarer cancers, so when a patient presents with symptoms appropriate action can be taken.

Public awareness, and awareness amongst medical and healthcare professionals, is paramount if we are to seriously fight cancer.

What area of cancer research or medical technology are you most excited by?

There is so much going on with cancer research and policy development, which is a testament to the passion of everyone working in this field who want to fight cancer.

I am very interested in how testing for faults in the BRCA genes might be used to understand cancer risk. Faults in these genes increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. And developments in testing among those with a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancers has  enabled more women to decide the best course of action for them to help prevent more cancers in the future.

There’s a lot more to learn in this area, including how much rare gene faults increase a person’s risk, and how best to help those who are tested understand their level of risk. And I find that exciting.

How do you think Cancer Research UK can help improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer? And where do you think CRUK has had the most impact in the past?

The work of Cancer Research UK has been a fantastic support to patients, professionals and policymakers to take those important steps to beat cancer sooner. I believe that we can all rally together and make sure that the amazing work that has happened already is built upon and we see the vision set out in the Cancer Strategy achieved.

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Read our interview with Steve Brine, Public Health Minister and Sharon’s counterpart in Government, about his priorities for tackling cancer.