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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 07:44 GMT
Cancer care plan to be outlined
cancer screening
Screening and treatment has improved cancer survival
Plans for reform of cancer services in England are to be set out by ministers.

Cancer survival in the UK is still below the European average, despite recent improvements and the publication of the first Cancer Plan in 2000.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson will outline how the government plans to tackle this over the next five years.

There will be a new emphasis on preventing cancer, and providing more support people living with its long-term effects.

For instance, it is hoped to deliver chemotherapy closer to patients' homes.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the service reforms would serve as a "road map to a higher standard of care available to all".

But the Conservatives have said the announcement amounts to an admission of failure, and that seven years after the government set out its cancer plan it has not delivered its promises.

Chronic condition

Thanks to treatment advances, people with cancer are living longer.

The new Cancer Reform Strategy is also tipped to:

  • Boost counselling and support services for people with cancer

  • Provide more support to get people back to work after treatment

  • Propose a public consultation exercise on whether to ban cigarette vending machines - smoking is linked to a third of all cancer deaths.

  • Increase investment in radiotherapy services

  • Outline measures to raise public awareness that smoking, overeating and too much sunbathing are all risk factors for the disease

  • Focus on how to improve detection of cancer in primary care

Mr Brown said the plan demonstrated the "very highest priority" attached to fighting the disease.

He said: "We must do more to ensure treatment is of the highest quality and I believe this plan can act as a road map to a higher standard of care, available to all.

"Our investment in world-class radiotherapy will ensure all of us have access to the best care when we are most in need."

Professor Mike Richards, the government's cancer czar, the UK spent less on cancer than some of its European counterparts - but was catching up.

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He said measures were already in place to improve cancer care.

Ciaran Devane, Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive, said there was an urgent need for reform.

"Big steps have been taken in treatment in recent years.

"Now more needs to be done to help patients get their lives back on track and cope with the long-term health, emotional and financial effects of cancer.

"We hope the government makes this a reality and puts patients firmly at the heart of its plans."

Support

Macmillan says four in 10 patients receive no written information at all when told they have the disease.

And 91% of homes suffer a loss in income or rise in costs as a direct result of cancer.

Although 79% of cancer patients want to return to work, only 23% are aware of the support and advice available to help them return.

Mike Williams, of the Royal Society of Radiologists, said many patients wait for longer than the recommended time to receive appropriate treatment.

"The situation for radiotherapy patients is that over half of them wait longer than four weeks which is our recommended maximum.

"This does raise the risk of tumours coming back, and does pose a threat to life, because if the tumour comes back it's more difficult to get control of.

"In the rest of Europe we believe that the wait's much shorter than this."

Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, Harpal Kumar, said that the charity had been campaigning "very hard" for an increase in the country's radiotherapy capacity.

"It is important to stress how much radiotherapy contributes to overall survival," he said.

Mr Kumar added that increased investment "will make a substantial difference and ensure we have the capacity to deliver consistency across the country."

A spokeswoman for the Teenage Cancer Trust said: "We are encouraged by the emerging theme of improving the patient experience and reducing inequalities - 70% of young people with cancer do not currently have access to an age-appropriate facility."



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