Cancer crisis reaches 'watershed moment', experts warn

Cancer crisis reaches ‘watershed moment’ as experts warn upward trend in deaths ‘is likely to continue’

  • Oncologists set out need for action to tackle crisis in UK cancer services 
  • Doctors called on the Government to address situation with Covid-like focus 
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  • READ MORE: ‘New paradigm’ moment as mRNA cancer vaccine developed

Cancer care is at a ‘watershed moment’ as experts warn the upward trend in deaths is ‘likely to continue’.

Leading oncologists and doctors have set out the desperate and urgent need for action to tackle the crisis engulfing UK cancer services.

In an essay published in The Lancet Oncology, they urge the government to address the situation with the same level of focus and urgency as was deployed to roll out the Covid vaccine.

And they warn of the danger of the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS not accepting ‘the true scale of the problem’.

Cancer performance data shows that just six in 10 cancer patients started treatment in October within two months of an urgent referral from their GP (red line). The figure is the second-lowest logged since records began in 2009. NHS targets set out that the figure should be at least 85 per cent. It means 5,728 people waited more than eight weeks to start cancer treatment (blue bars)

NHS data from November showed in the last 12 months, 69,000 patients in the UK waited longer than the recommended 62 days from suspected cancer referral to the start of treatment – twice as many than in 2017-18.

Meanwhile, 13 per cent of patients with cancer in England waited more than 104 days to start treatment in September – double the advised maximum waiting time.

The specialists, from Imperial College London, Kings College London, Anglia Ruskin University and the Wilmslow Health Centre in Cheshire, argued some areas like radiotherapy are now ‘critically threatened’.

In their paper, they refer to research which suggests a 17 per cent increase in UK cancer deaths due to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Further statistics show excess cancer deaths since March 2020 are already at 8,815, with 3,327 in the last six months, and this trend is ‘likely to continue’.

Professor Pat Price, a leading oncologist from Imperial College London, said: ‘This is a watershed moment for UK cancer services – the biggest cancer crisis ever – and we can’t accept the normalization of record-breaking cancer treatment waiting times.

All money raised will support the charity’s work on cancers affecting children, so that more under-25s can survive with a good quality of life 

The campaign, launched last week, is for more investment in research into childhood cancers 

‘Clinicians know it doesn’t need to be this way and that we don’t need new groundbreaking research to avert disaster.

‘We need a radical new plan, investment in capacity solutions in treatments like radiotherapy, and the political will to treat more patients on time.

‘If ever there was a time for us to deliver much needed investment into cancer treatment it is now.’

In their essay, the team wrote: ‘In November 2022, NHS England reported the worst ever waiting times for cancer treatment.

‘Short-term action is needed to save lives now. To immediately improve cancer survival, the UK needs to deliver cancer treatment within the recommended timeframe.

‘No research breakthroughs are needed, just an effective, efficient pathway to diagnose and treat patients with cancer.

Moderna’s mRNA cancer vaccine slashes risk of tumors returning in advanced melanoma patients 

A cancer vaccine that uses the same technology as Covid shots has been shown to slash the risk of tumors returning in advanced melanoma patients.

The shot, combined with an immunotherapy drug, reduced the chance of relapse or death in sufferers after surgery by 44 percent, compared to the drug on its own.

Using pieces of genetic code from patients’ tumors, the vaccine effectively ‘teaches’  the body to fight off cancer. 

Every shot is tailored to a specific patient, meaning no two will be the same. 

Pharma giants Merck and Moderna – who are co-developing the technological advance – heralded the results as a ‘tremendous step forward’ and a ‘new paradigm’ moment. 

They will now ‘rapidly’ seek approval for a final stage clinical trial that will confirm the vaccine’s efficacy on a much larger group of patients. 

If successful, it could be approved within six months of the study’s end.

READ MORE: Covid shot maker Moderna hails ‘new paradigm’ as its cancer mRNA vaccine slashes risk of relapse or death in melanoma patients by 44% 

‘The NHS and frontline staff need the same urgency and leadership, combined with the authority to work through obstructive bureaucracy, that was given to the Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce.

‘The UK public and the NHS should not tolerate the normalisation of delayed cancer care. There is urgency.

‘Although all NHS backlogs are important, the cancer backlog is the most time-sensitive and the most deadly.

‘If the UK does not act differently now, cancer services might simply not recover.’

Professor Gordon Wishart, former cancer surgeon and Chief Medical Officer of Check4Cancer said: ‘The Covid-induced cancer backlog is one of the deadliest backlogs and has served to widen the cracks in our cancer services.

‘Readers will be shocked to learn that even before the pandemic, the UK was near the bottom of the cancer survival league tables.

‘Now we face a deadly cancer timebomb of treatment delays that get worse every month because we don’t have a sufficiently ambitious plan from policymakers. I urge the Government to work with us.’

Dr David Collingridge, Editor-In-Chief of The Lancet Oncology journal, said the essay provides a ‘bleak narrative’ and ‘makes for a disheartening and depressing read’.

‘The authors present a frank and candid assessment of cancer care in the UK over the last decade, revealing a healthcare system that is nearing a cataclysmic event,’ he said.

‘A system in which cancer outcomes are worsening, patient access to care and screening is substantially declining.

‘Politicians of all persuasions need to stop the point-scoring and the childish bickering, and work together to develop a pragmatic, practicable and safe health-care system that delivers for staff and patients.

‘What will it take for this to happen? Thousands of treatable patients with cancer dying needlessly? We cannot wait any longer.’

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