I'm afraid I've got some very bad news for you. The UK has incurable cancer. The whole country is riddled with it and its spreading fast. We're trying to treat it but the treatments we have don't offer much hope. It just keeps growing, affecting more and more people, causing more and more misery, costing our health system more and more money. And the prognosis doesn't look good.
Five years ago around 2 million of us in the UK were living with cancer; now it's 2.5 million. By 2030 it's expected to be 4 million. Sure, some of this is down to the fact that more of us are living to an older age, but dig deeper and you'll find that there's more to it - cancer rates among young people are growing fast too.
But we're the fourth richest nation in the world, so we're all in the best place if we do get cancer...aren't we? Unfortunately not. While politicians peddle good news stories about cancer improvements, our cancer survival rates are actually among the worst in Europe. I wonder how many of us know that. Or even believe it. During the recent ITV Leaders Debate, David Cameron claimed that the UK's cancer survival rates "used to be among the worst in Europe and now among the best"! Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth - cancer charity MacMillan recently published the real picture, which shows that the UK's cancer survival rates are stuck in the 1990s and people are "dying needlessly". David Cameron is like an alcoholic in denial when it comes to cancer care. And like any alcoholic, the first challenge is accepting there is a problem. We must stop propagating the perception that everything in the garden is rosy and accept that we need to do more.
The previous Government set a measly target to bring the UK up to the average survival rates for Europe; an increase of just 3% after 5 years. How can we achieve a breakthrough in the battle against cancer when our aim is to do no better than other countries are already doing? And meanwhile, other countries are probably investing more, setting more ambitious targets and forging even further ahead.
My wife has been battling ovarian cancer for the last three years and her prospects could have been so much better had previous Governments done more. She has been forced to accept a punishing treatment schedule with damaging side-effects and virtually no prospect of a cure, so that we can have what little extra time together we can. She's also desperately having to raise money to pay for treatments not available on the NHS.
So, we're calling on the UK Government to Do More for Cancer. We've started a petition and we've written to all the main party leaders urging them to set more ambitious targets, to be bolder in tackling the barriers to progress and to give cancer a much higher priority. We've also highlighted ten issues with cancer care that we've observed from our own experiences.
- Only 'Big Profit' Drugs Get Developed. Only substances that can be patented, and can therefore cover the high cost of clinical trials and produce a guaranteed return on investment, end up being developed into new drugs. Substances with clinical potential but limited profit potential fall through the gap.
- 'Aim Low' Cancer Strategy Unlikely to Achieve Breakthrough. The UK's cancer strategy aims too low and focuses only on small incremental improvements not cures.
- 'Prevention Strategy' not part of 'Treatment Strategy'. Cancer prevention advice is not being considered as part of treatment plans.
- Culture of Defensiveness and Superiority. There is an unwavering belief that the NHS knows best, despite other countries performing better.
- Inadequate Focus on Environmental Causes of Cancer. More should be done to tackle carcinogens in the environment.
- No Central Process for Access to Clinical Trials. Patients shouldn't be left to do their own research to try to identify trials that they may be eligible for.
- Excessive Burden of Proof for Harmless Treatments. Harmless, low-cost supplements with cancer fighting potential have to undergo the same rigorous and costly clinical trials as a highly toxic new drug.
- Flawed Measures of Success. Headline statistics measure short-term survival instead of what patients really want - lasting cures without ongoing medical intervention
- 'One-Size-Fits-All' Treatments. More focus is needed on personalised treatments taking into account the individual tumour profile of the patient.
- False Abandonment of Hope. Doctors too often give patients the impression there is no hope. Abandonment of all hope is inhuman and unjustified.