About cancer

Cancer affects us all. Survival in England is at a record high and patients’ experience of treatment and care has never been higher. But we won’t stop there. We want every person with cancer to have the very best diagnosis, treatment and care.

That’s why we’re delivering the NHS Long Term Plan, which sets out how we will continue to transform cancer care, so that from 2028:

  • an extra 55,000 people each year will survive for five years or more following their cancer diagnosis; and
  • three in four cancers (75%) will be diagnosed at an early stage.

The NHS Cancer Programme leads the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan and you can find out more about our ambitions for cancer.

One in every two people in this country will be told they have cancer at some point in their lives. Catching it early is key so we can treat and cure cancer before it spreads and you can find a wealth of information, including symptom checkers on the nhs.uk website. It’s important to be aware of any unexplained changes to your body, such as the sudden appearance of a lump, blood in your urine, or a change to your usual bowel habits. If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to get them checked out.

The NHS Long Term Plan for Cancer – our key achievements at a glance

Rapid Diagnostic Centres (RDCs) are being set up across England to offer access to multiple tests for people with cancer symptoms. Cancer Alliances are using the RDC model to improve the diagnostic experience for patients and to provide faster diagnosis.

In the last 12 months, we have rolled out a new, improved test into the bowel screening programme, which is more accurate and easier for patients to use. Find out more about the FIT test and the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme has introduced human papillomavirus (HPV) as the primary screening test across the whole of England. Almost all cervical cancers are linked to HPV and screening for high-risk strains of the virus means it can be monitored and any cell changes can be spotted early on, which could prevent around 600 additional cancers a year.

A £130 million national Radiotherapy Modernisation Fund has delivered the largest radiotherapy upgrade programme in 15 years. We have provided funding to replace or upgrade over 80 radiotherapy machines so that patients can have access to sustainable high quality, modern radiotherapy treatments, wherever they live.

In December 2018, the first patient received Proton Beam Therapy at the Christie in Manchester, which was the first time this treatment became available in the NHS in England. We are also preparing for the NHS to begin delivering Chimeric Antigen Receptor T Cell (CAR-T) Therapy treatment to children and young people up to 25 years old with B cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) that is refractory, in relapse post-transplant or in second or later relapse. CAR-T therapy is a truly game-changing personalised therapy for cancer, and NHS cancer patients will be among the first in the world to benefit.

We have launched a nationwide Cancer Quality of Life Survey to help us understand what matters to patients. This is an ambitious programme with a scale and depth that isn’t being matched anywhere else in the world.

We have already invested over £300 million through the Cancer Alliances, to accelerate early and fast diagnosis and transform cancer follow-up. This year, Cancer Alliances will receive over £115 million. Further details of the total package of support for Alliances is available on the NHS England website.

Cancer treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic

Cancer services remain an absolute priority for the NHS. Thanks to the efforts of NHS staff, cancer services have been maintained throughout the pandemic.

The rapid rise in COVID-19 incidence and hospitalisation are creating pressures across NHS services, but NHS staff are working to ensure that, wherever possible, cancer treatment can continue safely. In local escalation plans, any decision to reschedule cancer treatment will be a last resort.

To support overall restoration and recovery work, we established a Cancer Recovery Taskforce, bringing together key cancer charities, Royal Colleges and colleagues from across the cancer community, to input into the development, publication and delivery of a national cancer recovery plan.

The Cancer Recovery Plan was published in December 2020 and has three key aims for recovering cancer services. These are to:

  • Restore demand at least to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Take immediate steps to reduce the number of people waiting over 62 days from urgent referral.
  • Ensure sufficient capacity to meet demand.

If you have symptoms that you are worried may be cancer, please contact your GP immediately – you will get the tests you need, and if necessary, you will be treated. The NHS is here for you.

Our National Directors

Cally PalmerDame Cally Palmer was appointed National Cancer Director for NHS England in 2015 and is responsible for the implementation of the Long Term Plan for Cancer to improve survival and quality of life for all those affected by cancer.

In this short video, Cally provides an overview of a range of important initiatives, including screening programmes, the new 28-day faster diagnosis standard and the care and treatment options available. Cally also provides an overview of the Targeted Lung Health Checks programme, one of the first programmes to roll out of the Long Term Plan.

Peter JohnsonProfessor Peter Johnson is the National Clinical Director for Cancer. Peter is Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Southampton and Director of the Southampton Cancer Research UK Centre. Since 2018, he has been Director of the Francis Crick Institute Cancer Research Network and was previously Chief Clinician for Cancer Research UK. He specialises in haemo-oncology and immunology.