Scottish Government
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Plan launched to detect cancer earlier

A plan to increase the number of Scots diagnosed in the earliest stages of cancer by 25 per cent - to improve cancer survival rates for patients in Scotland - was published today.

The draft Detect Cancer Early Implementation Plan - published for consultation with the NHS, clinicians, cancer charities and key third sector groups - will aim to save more than 300 lives a year by the end of the next Parliamentary term.

As announced by Ms Sturgeon in March, the Scottish Government has set aside £30m from the extra £1 billion committed to the health budget during the next four years, to support implementation of the plan and improvements in cancer detection, diagnosis and treatment.

Action will initially concentrate on tackling the three most common cancers in Scotland - breast, bowel and lung cancer, with a focus on:

  • Improving informed consent and participation in national screening programmes to help detect cancer earlier and improve survival rates
  • Raising the public's awareness of these screening programmes and also the early signs and symptoms of cancer to encourage them to seek help earlier
  • Working with GPs to promote earlier referral or investigation of patients who may showing a suspicion of cancer
  • Ensuring there is sufficient capacity in the screening programmes to meet the expected increase in those choosing to take part
  • Helping imaging, investigation departments and treatment centres to prepare for an increase in the number of patients with early disease requiring treatment.
  • Strengthening data collection and performance reporting within NHS Scotland to ensure progress continues to be made on improving cancer diagnosis, treatment, referral and survival.

Meanwhile, a review of the national breast screening programme - the first since it began more than two decades ago - is also being launched today by National Services Division of NHS National Services Scotland. This will ensure it remains a clinically and cost effective service for women - who will be invited to contribute their views via a questionnaire.

Launching the Plan at the Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow today, Ms Sturgeon said:

"Scotland has made good progress in cancer treatment during the last two decades. Screening for breast, bowel and cervical cancers have been introduced, and cancer is being diagnosed and treated earlier thanks to advances in treatments and investment in staff and equipment. New targets on cancer waiting times, set for December 2011, which established a 31-day target from decision to treat to treatment, have also been met ahead of schedule.

"However, Scotland continues to lag behind other parts of and Europe for patient cancer survival rates. And with an aging population, the incidence of cancer is set to increase and require more complex treatments. More action is therefore needed and this draft plan, on which we will be receiving views during the summer, sets out how we intend to achieve that.

"By diagnosing and detecting cancer earlier, we can treat patients when their general health is better and when less aggressive treatment may be required than if the cancer had spread. This will improve survival and reap benefits for patients, their families and all of Scotland."

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's director of policy, said:

"Despite huge improvements in recent decades, research shows that one of the major reasons that cancer survival in Scotland still lags behind the best performing countries in the world is late diagnosis. We also know that inequalities persist, with people from lower socio-economic groups less likely to be diagnosed at an early stage. And when cancer is detected early, treatment is more likely to be effective.

"Cancer Research UK looks forward to working with the Scottish Government to improve symptom awareness among the public, encourage prompt visits to the doctor and support GPs to diagnose cancer as early as possible."

Elspeth Atkinson, Macmillan Cancer Support's director for Scotland, said:

"Early diagnosis not only has a positive impact on someone's prognosis, we know it also has a positive effect on their emotional wellbeing at what can be a particularly anxious and stressful time.

"There are now more than 190,000 people in Scotland living with a cancer diagnosis. We must make sure that the growing numbers of people expected to survive cancer as a result of this welcome initiative receive the support they need to go on and have a good quality of life."

Dr Hilary Dobson, West Of Scotland Regional Lead Cancer Clinician said:

"The Clinical Networks in Scotland welcome this initiative which builds on the foundation of the introduction of population based screening programmes and improvements in treatment in recent times and aims to tackle, in a comprehensive, multi-agency approach, the challenge of earlier diagnosis. In the longer term such an approach will not only contribute to better outcomes for our patients but also improved quality of their cancer journey."

Stakeholders are being invited to submit their responses by August 26, 2011.

In 2008, the latest year for which national figures are available, there were 4,232 new cases of breast cancer, 3,841 new cases of bowel cancer and 4,810 new cases of lung cancer. The estimated five year relative survival rates for the period 2003-2007 are:

breast - 86 per cent

bowel (male and females) - 55 per cent

lung - seven per cent for males and nine per cent for females

Each year, screening of women aged 50 to 70 helps to detect nearly 1,500 breast cancers with earlier detection helping to ensure earlier treatment and a better chance of survival. Both women who have previously accepted an invitation for screening and those who have not, will be encouraged to respond to the questionnaire for the breast screening review. Paper copies will be available from today until August 28 at local breast screening centres or by calling National Services Division of NHS National Services Scotland on 0131 275 6575.

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