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Scaling up an innovative scheme to catch lung cancer early, plus a more sensitive test for bowel cancer and improved diagnosis of prostate cancer could together save thousands of lives each year.

Details of the medical advances have been announced by NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens. First he highlighted the success of a pilot scheme run in Manchester to boost the early diagnosis of lung cancer. As with most diseases, the earlier it is detected, the more effectively it can be treated.

The Manchester scheme used mobile scanners which were taken to busy areas such as shopping centres in three deprived areas of the city, where lung cancer is more prevalent. They offered smokers and ex-smokers free health checks and on-the-spot scans, picking up one cancer for every 33 patients scanned over the course of a year. Of these, 80% were early stage one and two diagnoses.

The pilot programme quadrupled the early diagnosis rates for lung cancer in Manchester, and the outlook is improving for those receiving an early diagnosis. Latest medical reports show that more people with lung cancer are having successful surgery and living longer.

Now the scheme is being rolled out across the whole of north Manchester, an area which has the highest number of lung cancer deaths among the under-75s in England. In addition, NHS England is funding scanners in other areas as part of a national programme to diagnose cancer earlier, improve the care for those living with cancer and ensure each cancer patient gets the right care for them.

Secondly, Mr Stevens confirmed plans for ‘FIT’ – a more sensitive bowel cancer test that could see as many as 1,500 more cancers caught earlier every year. ‘FIT’ is an easy-to-use home testing kit which predicts bowel cancer. Following the introduction of the home test, almost a third-of-a-million more people are expected to complete screening. The sensitivity level of the initial home test determines who should go on for further cancer testing.

Thirdly, another pilot programme is improving the efficiency of detecting prostate cancer using high-definition Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. It has reduced the average time for confirmed diagnosis to just eight days and the time from referral to beginning treatment to 20 days. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, with more than 40,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

The new process sees patients receiving an MRI scan and report, a clinical review and, if necessary, a targeted biopsy all on the same day. It is also more accurate, with studies suggesting that the new approach almost doubles the chance of finding important life-threatening prostate cancers. Patients who receive an MRI scan which indicates nothing suspicious could be safely discharged back to their GP without undergoing an invasive biopsy.

Three NHS Trusts in London are piloting this new model of care and working with Prostate Cancer UK and others to develop a set of standards for the new model. Again, it could be rolled out to other areas in the future, with NHS England now committing to expanded cancer screening to more than four million people in 2018.

Speaking about the latest advances, Mr Stevens said: “NHS cancer care is the best it’s ever been, with cancer survival increasing every year. Over the next 18 months the NHS will be rolling out new mobile scanners and home screening kits to detect cancers earlier, when they can be treated best.”

“The introduction of the FIT bowel cancer screening test is a major weapon in our armoury – potentially diagnosing up to 1,500 more people a year and saving lives,” said Mr Stevens.

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