Humans and Health

Is The Lack Of Cancer Studies In The UK Costing Lives?

cancer research
Vishvajyth Ponnambalam


According to a study published by the charity Cancer Research UK, the United Kingdom is at the bottom of the league tables for survival rates for patients suffering from 5 out of 7 listed cancer types. The study included countries such as Ireland, Canada, Denmark, and New Zealand who have similar resources and healthcare systems to the UK. This is despite 1.1 million cancer patients being treated from the 1980s as well as tremendous amount of money and research being put into cancer studies. In fact, the government invests £112 million pounds into cancer research, which is lower than other comparable countries and lower than Cancer Research UK and Imperial Cancer Research Fund, the two biggest cancer research charities in the UK.  So, what exactly is the UK doing wrong? And what can be done to improve the situation? 

our country’s poor ranking is a “fixable problem”

According to data from Cancer Research UK’s October report, the waiting time for an urgent suspected cancer referral is two weeks in England and Northern Ireland, with a standard waiting time of 62 days.  This is much higher than other countries and causes delays in detecting cancers in its early stages (Stage 1&2) which lead to poor prognosis and survival of patients as the cancer is allowed to develop untreated in the body. The diagnostics testing is also a reason why so many people are not getting the treatment they need, and there also seems to be inequalities correlated with class; people in deprivation make up a staggering 33,000 cases a year. Age bias against elderly people leads to this cohort being less likely to receive treatment, which is extremely detrimental as they are more likely to be diagnosed than younger demographics. 

Cancer Research UK, who stated that our country’s poor ranking is a “fixable problem”, have published a manifesto including five missions for the next government in order to improve cancer outcomes: 

  • Rebuild the UK’s global position in biomedical research 
  • Prevent thousands more cancer cases 
  • Diagnose cancers earlier and reduce inequalities   
  • Bring tests, treatments, and innovations to patients more quickly   
  • Build a national movement to beat cancer, together 

will the future government be able to invest enough and act fast enough to not only stabilise the healthcare system, but rejuvenate it? 

These missions highlight the importance of a targeted approach involving all the different stakeholders, from research scientists and hospital staff to local pharmacies and clinics, in ensuring the UK can save as many lives as possible. It also illustrates the importance of reaching everyone in the country, not just those who are able to easily access earlier testing. Long-term funding must also be increased to meet the current and future needs of the population, especially if we consider the fact that, by 2040, there will be half a million new cancer cases. It is important to note that breast cancer, the most common form of cancer in England, is actually seeing increase in survival rate and catching up with better performing countries, which shows that the UK does have capacity to improve survival rates for cancer patients. 

It remains to be seen how these missions will be received by and, more importantly, acted upon by the government. There is currently a £1 billion gap in funding in cancer research. With the cost-of-living crisis showing no clear sign of ebbing away, will the government be able to justify increasing funding specifically for cancer treatment? Given the current climate of junior doctors striking and the NHS already under increasing pressure, will the future government be able to invest enough and act fast enough to not only stabilise the healthcare system, but rejuvenate it? 

Vishvajyth Ponnambalam

Featured image courtesy of National Cancer Institute via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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