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Pilot scheme for cancer screening aims to help UK have lowest mortality rates for disease in Europe
20:27 GMT, 11 December 2012
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt today unveiled plans for new cancer screening programmes to help the UK reach the lowest cancer mortality rates in Europe.
Pilot programmes to screen over-55s for bowel cancer will be launched in five areas in England.
The scheme will enable doctors to detect and remove polyps before they turn cancerous and catch cancer earlier – when it is more treatable.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has revealed new plans to extend cancer screening programmes
The Government is also piloting a new, more sensitive test for cervical cancer which could mean women would need screening half as often, while identifying abnormal cells at an earlier, more treatable stage.
Ministers said the programmes will save up to 3,000 lives a year.
Mr Hunt, who addressed the Britain Against Cancer conference in central London today, said: 'All the cancer specialists say that one thing they need more than anything else is to get to see people more quickly, at an earlier stage of their cancer.
'So there’s work that needs to happen with the GP community, the pilots for bowel cancer and cervical cancer that I’ve announced today are positive steps.
'But overall improving early diagnosis is absolutely critical.'
Mr Hunt said he was surprised to find that 'all the top people in the NHS' were behind him in his goal of having the lowest cancer mortality rate in Europe.
Mr Hunt said: '(They all said) absolutely, we should never have been aiming to be as good as the European average in the first place and we are perfectly capable of being the best in Europe and let’s embrace that as a goal.
Under the plans, bowel cancer screening trials will be held in Norwich, South of Tyne, St Marks London, Surrey, West Kent and Wolverhampton
'I appreciate these are only words and it’s all about delivery and the commitment I want to give you all is that I’m not going to change my priorities and I’m going to stick with them for as long as I’m health secretary.'
For some cancer types, survival rates are 10 per cent to 15 per cent lower in England than in comparable countries such as Australia, Canada and Sweden.
The bowel cancer screening trials will be held in Norwich, South of Tyne, St Mark’s London, Surrey, West Kent and Wolverhampton. The cervical cancer test will be piloted in Liverpool, Manchester, Northwick Park, Bristol, Sheffield and Norwich.
Mike Hobday, director of policy and research at Macmillan Cancer Support, welcomed the announcement.
Mr Hobday said: 'The current cervical screening programme is successful, but there is room for improvement when it comes to diagnosing the cancer at an early stage.
'It is notoriously difficult to spot cervical cancer early on as there are no real symptoms.
'The pilot programme, however, is more sensitive than the existing screen test and would mean that those with a higher risk of developing cervical cancer are identified early on and those with a lower risk could be tested less frequently.
'Widening the age range of people currently invited for bowel cancer screening to include everyone over 55 and offering a flexible medical examination alongside the existing blood test would help to diagnose more people before the cancer has reached an advanced stage, meaning that treatment could be more effective.'