The independent Cancer Taskforce published its report, Achieving World-Class Cancer Outcomes: A Strategy for England 2015-2020, in July 2015, recommending improvements across the cancer patient pathway, including for breast cancer. An implementation plan, Achieving World-Class Cancer Outcomes: Taking the strategy forward, was published on 12 May 2016 and we hope to see great progress as it is delivered.
Earlier diagnosis makes it more likely that patients will receive effective treatments. We have committed to implementing recommendation 24 of the report that by 2020, everyone referred with a suspicion of cancer will receive either a definitive diagnosis or the all-clear within four weeks. This standard will be underpinned by investment of up to £300 million more in diagnostics each year by 2020.
On breast cancer specifically, the cancer strategy recommended that we:
- ensure that chemo-prevention is being used appropriately to reduce the risk of developing breast cancers, particularly in younger women at high risk of developing cancer;
- commission the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to develop updated guidelines for adjuvant treatment for breast cancer, including the use of bisphosphonates and aromatase inhibitors to prevent secondary cancers in women previously treated for early stage breast cancer;
- ensure that all patients treated for cancer are given advice on how best to manage their risk level and ensure that the risk of developing secondary cancers is reduced, as well as ensuring that there is a fast and efficient route back into treatment for patients who suffer recurrence; and
- ensure that, by 2020, the 280,000 people diagnosed with cancer every year will benefit from a tailored recovery package. The packages will be individually designed to help each person, live well beyond cancer, including psychological and social support for those whose cancer recurs, or who live for a long time with cancer or its consequences, as is often the case in women with secondary breast cancer.
We have also run two national Be Clear on Cancer campaigns in 2014 and 2015 to raise awareness of the symptoms of breast cancer in women aged over 70. The campaigns targeted women over 70 because the disease is often diagnosed at a later stage in this age group. Breast screening for asymptomatic cancer saves an estimated 1,300 lives a year in the United Kingdom. A major randomised controlled trial is testing whether extending breast screening to women aged 47-49 and 71-73 will save more lives. Over 2 million women have been randomised into the trial, and results are expected in the early 2020s.