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Advanced cancer treatment improves but early diagnosis is still key

The research, revealed at the National Cancer Research Institute Conference, shows that at least 17,000 people have lived for two years or more after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer - ‘advanced’ or ‘secondary’ cancer which has spread to other parts of the body.

Macmillan Cancer Support say that thanks to new and improved treatments, advanced cancer can be “more ‘treatable’ and manageable”. Whilst this is really positive news, living with advanced cancer can be a very difficult situation to be in and treatment can often still offer no cure at this stage of the disease. Although new treatments can help to target some of the physical symptoms, these can come with side effects and have a big effect on patients’ quality of life. The emotional impact can also be huge given the uncertainty for the future.

Diagnosing cancer at its earliest stage can greatly increase the chances for successful treatment and have a huge effect on survival. Worryingly research carried out by Cancer Research UK found that 46% of all cancers diagnosed in England in 2012 were not detected until they had reached stage three or four.

It is crucial that patients know when to seek advice and to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms of the disease. Public Health England have taken action with the Be Clear on Cancer campaigns, and have advertised information on the topic including bowel, lung, breast and ovarian cancers.

This month is also Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. The charity Pancreatic Cancer Action are raising awareness of the signs of symptoms of this disease to drive earlier diagnosis. This awareness is particularly important as often pancreatic cancer is only detected once it has reached an advanced stage.

Whilst GPs play a crucial role in referring patients for further investigations, patients are then reliant on investigations being carried out within an appropriate timeframe. News this week raises concerns about potential delays as the chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, has warned that cancer care could deteriorate due to insufficient NHS funding.

These comments were welcomed by Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, who said “He is right to warn that without extra funding there will be consequences for patients, who will have to wait longer and may not get the treatment they should have when they need it”.

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