Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008

Cancer plan aims to reduce deaths

woman having mammogram
Two x-rays will be carried out on each breast during screening

An action plan designed to dramatically cut cancer deaths and improve the lives of survivors has been unveiled by the Scottish Government.

As part of the plan, all women attending routine screening for breast cancer will get two x-rays of each breast instead of one.

Experts believe this will help pick up early tumours which are too small to detect under the current programme.

Among the other measures are a promise to deliver treatment more promptly.

Scotland currently has one of the lowest cancer survival rates in Europe.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said that by 2011, all patients would receive treatment within 31 days of being diagnosed with cancer.

It is a very ambitious programme covering all the bases we need to cover to ensure that we are winning the battle against cancer
Nicola Sturgeon
Health secretary

Macmillan Cancer Support's network of benefits advice services will be enhanced by an additional 500,000 of investment, and a new focus will be placed on "survivorship" to help those battling the disease to live with and beyond cancer.

Ms Sturgeon told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that the action plan aimed to cut cancer deaths in the under-75s by 20% by 2010.

She said: "We face a situation in Scotland where, because of our aging population and better diagnosis techniques, more people every year are diagnosed with cancer - around 27,000 of us every year will be told we have cancer.

"The good news is more people are living with cancer and surviving cancer, so fewer people are dying from it.

"The plan we are outlining today will have a focus on what we need to do to prevent cancer, how we promote quicker diagnosis and quicker and better treatment, and how we help people to live with and beyond cancer.

"It is a very ambitious programme covering all the bases we need to cover to ensure that we are winning the battle against cancer."

'Financial support'

Ms Sturgeon said screening programmes were one of the reasons why early diagnosis had improved, but said the new 13m "two-view" breast cancer screening technique could detect around 300 additional cancers every year, allowing more patients to get potentially life-saving treatment more quickly.

The programme was welcomed by Macmillan's Scottish director Elspeth Atkinson, who said: "Cancer is no longer an automatic death sentence but it shouldn't be a life sentence either - a person's needs do not end when their cancer treatment finishes.

"We look forward to continuing to work with the government, the NHS and other partners to ensure that people affected by cancer get the practical, emotional and financial support they need."

She said the 500,000 of extra funding for Macmillan would be used to help alleviate the poverty which affects a "significant number" of people with cancer.

But Labour's health spokeswoman Cathy Jamieson said she was concerned the plans would be impossible to deliver due to a lack of funding.

She said: "It is clear that the NHS is already under financial pressure because of the SNP's poor budget settlement. We know that NHS Greater Glasgow is being forced to make 42m worth of cuts in its budget this year.

"Furthermore, Scotland's health boards have also been warned that they could be forced to cut 14m from patient care and frontline services to fund direct elections.

"In order to give cancer patients access to the best possible treatment the SNP government must now provide additional resources to allow health boards to meet the targets set out in this new action plan."

Audrey Birt, Scottish director of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "Breakthrough is encouraged that two-view mammography will be in place by 2010 at every screening appointment.

"However, it is essential that more is also done to ensure women realise the importance of breast screening, keep their appointments and that the service continues to develop and improve."

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