England and Wales have seen "good progress" on cancer during the last 15 years, but 10,000 cancer deaths each year could still be avoided if early diagnosis was improved, said UK 'cancer tsar' Professor Mike Richards in his Office of Health Economics Lecture in London this week. Professor Richards pointed out that while the UK is doing a little better than average in Europe with regard to incidence of cancer in men, the country is faring less well with incidence in women, and where its five-year survival rates are respectable, one-year survival rates are poor.
If the UK's cancer outcomes were to match those of the more successful European countries, such as Sweden, then cancer deaths could be reduced by 10,000 per year, said Professor Richards. He added that if he could "wave a magic wand" and solve just one of the UK's cancer outcomes problems, it would be the problem of late diagnosis. Under Professor Richards' leadership, the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI) is now working on ways to facilitate earlier diagnosis, such as targeted public awareness campaigns and improving access to diagnostics for GPs.
Professor Richards was appointed as the UK's first National Cancer Director in October 1999. In 2000 he led the development of the NHS Cancer Plan, the first comprehensive strategy to tackle cancer in England and was subsequently responsible for overseeing its implementation. In June 2008 he was asked by the UK government to lead a review of policy relating to patients who choose to pay privately for drugs that are not funded on the NHS.