Early screening is key in boosting cancer survival rates

A few decades ago, receiving a cancer diagnosis was a bleak scenario but in the past years, researchers have been making incredible progress in boosting cancer survival rates.

Far from being the result of only one improvement, higher survival rates are due to a series of factors, from better surgery to national cancer strategies and sophisticated drugs being developed. But in spite of this good news, and the recent enthusiasm surrounding immunotherapy as an effective way of treating cancer, scientists avoid using the term “cure for cancer”, mostly because cancer is not one specific disease, it’s a group of diseases, and treatment options vary from patient to patient. 

But while researchers are exploring state-of-the-art treatment options, they continue to raise awareness that early cancer screening and detection is key in boosting survival rates. Finding cancer early, before it’s had a chance to spread, can make a huge difference in terms of treatment and it can literally save lives. 

According to data from Cancer Research UK:

  • The survival rate for at least a year in lung cancer patients is 80% if caught in the early stages, compared to just 15% in the advanced stages. 

  • 90% of women diagnosed with ovarian and breast cancers in the early stages have an outlook of at least 5 years. 

  • Since 1950, there has been a 70% decline in deaths caused by cervical cancer thanks to the Pap screening test. 

  • Localised stage 1 melanoma skin cancer has a 99% 5-year survival rate. 

So, even though surgical procedures and treatments have become more and more sophisticated, going to regular check-ups and seeing your doctor whenever you experience odd symptoms is the safest option. It’s the cheapest one, too, because it prevents patients and their families for carrying the financial burden of cancer treatments. 

Where does the UK stand on early cancer detection? 

According to a study published in The Lancet Oncology Journal, cancer survival rates in the UK have improved considerably thanks to advancements in modern surgery, but we still lag behind comparable countries (Australia, Denmark, Norway, and Canada). The study, which looked at 3.9 million cancer cases between 1995 to 2014, found that the UK has been making slower progress than the othercountries, and poor diagnosis and scanning play an important part in the results. 

While NHS England has contested the results of the study, claiming that the UK has made considerable progress in the five years after the study ended, officials did mention that they want to invest more in early cancer detection: “The NHS long-term plan will build on this progress by ramping up action to spot more cancers at the earliest possible stage when the chance of survival is higher, saving tens of thousands more lives every year.”

Meanwhile, a 2018 report by the All.Can cancer initiative confirmed the findings of the Lancet Oncology study: 4 out of 10 cancer patients were initially misdiagnosed, which calls for urgent improvements in NHS’ screening procedures. 

Additionally, Cancer Research UK warned that 22% of cancer diagnoses are given at A&E and, in 71% of cases, people go to their GP with cancer-like symptoms, but their concerns are written off as unfounded and they’re sent back home. Unfortunately, many GPs refuse to refer patients with potentially serious symptoms because they are young, they don’t have a family history or they don’t show an increased risk of developing certain cancers, which leads of misdiagnosis.Medical negligence solicitors point out that over 115,000 cancer patients are diagnosed too late, worsening the survival outlook and putting patients and their families under great financial stress. The top four most misdiagnosed cancers included breast, lung, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer. According to the latest data, the NHS spent £1.7 billion on clinical negligence claims in England in 2018 and suffered £65 billion in liabilities, which is almost double compared to 2010-2011, and this is worrying for two reasons. Firstly, because it points to clear faults in NHS practices and secondly because most incidents could have been avoided and that money could be used to front-line health services. 

Cancer detection project receives £55 million in funding

It’s not all bad news though. Although progress could be faster, there are many ambitious projects that could prevent cancer rates in the UK. For example, six universities and charities in the UK and US started the International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection (ACED), which received £55 million in funding and plans to develop new screening technologies for hard to detect cancers. The alliance also wants to invest in medical education and help GPs better differentiate between high and low-risk patients, as well as analyse the mental barriers behind late cancer detection, such as patients skipping their regular check-ups or ignoring symptoms. 

Tips for early detection 

  • Know your medical history. If someone in your family has been diagnosed with cancer, talk to your doctor to find out if you’re at a higher risk. 
  • Don’t brush off symptoms. See your doctor for any usual physical symptoms or symptoms that don’t go away after two weeks. These can be anything from bruises and lumps to unexplained weight loss and coughing. 
  • Don’t be afraid of routine tests. They’re the best way to prevent not just cancer, but any disease. 
  • After the age of 45, you should start breast and colon cancer screening by having your first mammogram/colonoscopy, and then adjust screening intervals according to your doctor’s recommendations. 
  • Go to a specialist. If you’re not satisfied with your GP visit, or you’re not sure that your doctor interpreted the test results correctly, schedule an appointment to a specialised clinic. 

Although cancer is no longer as life-threateningas it was a few decades ago, it remains one of the most complex medical conditionswe’ve ever dealt with. Whether or not you have a known risk for developing cancer, it’s important to pay attention to your body and know when to see a doctor. 

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