New cancer strategy must prioritise faster diagnosis to improve survival rates

(Title Image: Nick Youngson via Creative Commons Licence BY-SA-3.0)

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes that early diagnosis of cancer improves survival chances.
  • Notes that the World Health Organisation recommends that all nations should have a strategy on cancer.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure its new cancer delivery plan includes a greater emphasis on earlier diagnosis and to take action to improve the uptake of cancer screening.

Link between chances of survival and speed of diagnosis

David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) said that while around half of people born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetimes, survival rates have improved. Nonetheless, there was a clear link between how quickly someone is diagnosed and their overall chance of survival.

“In Wales, we have seen one-year survival rates increase, along with five-year survival rates. It is clear that early diagnosis is fundamental. This becomes ever more present when we look at harder-to-diagnose cancers, such as lung cancer or pancreatic cancer. Cancers like these have little to no stage 1 symptoms, or symptoms that are non-specific. It is therefore important that any strategy for cancer treatment must include a strong emphasis on early diagnosis.”
– David Rees AM

Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) suggested the use of advance algorithms to make the diagnosis of the hardest to detect cancers (in their early stages) much quicker.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) praised the innovative approach taken at Neath Port Talbot Hospital – whereby all the relevant professionals are in the same place from the start – which has seen diagnosis times cut to just 5-6 days from 80 days. The key to this was a changed attitude to “vague symptoms” for cancers which may not be obvious to GPs from the start.

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) did, however, warn of a lack of diagnostic staff – such as endoscopists, who don’t necessarily have to be doctors but can be specialised nurses.

The BXP’s Caroline Jones said how a breast tumour she survived was only picked up at the last minute because a consultant noticed it was translucent and didn’t show up. Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) added that late diagnosis was one of the main reason survival rates (rather than treatment times) was behind most comparable countries.

New strategies being developed for cancer, heart disease and strokes

Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan (Lab, Cardiff North), confirmed that the Welsh Government were developing strategies for cancer, heart disease and strokes. The current strategies will be extended by a year to give enough time to develop replacements.

“It will be the case that the successor approach to the cancer delivery plan will have an enhanced focus on the earlier detection of cancer. The current plan recognises that earlier detection is likely to improve survival….The other key component of this primary care referral practice is access to diagnostic care. We have significant amounts of activity in place targeted at these two components, but we want to go further and faster in the years ahead. It’s been very pleasing to hear the praise of the Neath Port Talbot rapid diagnostic centre here today, and the dramatic drop in the waiting time.”
– Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan

Taking part in screening programmes was obviously an individual choice, though the Welsh Government’s single cancer treatment pathway – a “standout achievement” – is unique and has built momentum for further improvement.

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