Thank you for contacting me about breast cancer.
Please allow me to assure you that every effort is being made to continue raising awareness of breast cancer and to improve the treatment of all those diagnosed with this disease.
I’m delighted that breast cancer survival rates have improved remarkably over the last 40 years, with five-year survival rates for women at over 86 per cent, up from just 53 per cent in the 1970s. This is a testament to the efforts made to raise awareness of, and boost funding into tackling this disease but more must be done.
I am glad the Public Health England campaign, Be Clear on Cancer, continues to raise awareness of breast cancer among women over 70, who account for roughly 1 in 3 cases of the disease. First launched in 2014, the campaign drives awareness around key symptoms of breast cancer, encouraging thinking, acting, and treating early.
Great efforts are being made to improve cancer services and to ensure that the NHS continues to provide some of the world’s best cancer care. The NHS has launched the National Cancer Programme which is committed to offering uniquely tailored cancer treatment to all patients with breast cancer by the end of 2020. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has also updated its guidance on diagnosing and treating breast cancer. This guidance aims to help healthcare professionals offer the right treatments to people diagnosed with breast cancer, taking into account their individual preferences which I am encouraged will significantly improve patient experience and quality of care.
These measures form just part of the NHS’s ambitious wider strategy to improve cancer outcomes. The NHS Long Term Plan (LTP) was published in January 2019 and commits to improving detection, with more targeted screening and Rapid Access Diagnostic Centres, so that in 10 years’ time these measures will help achieve 55,000 more people surviving cancer each year.
I am aware that some NHS services, including screening appointments for Breast Cancer, were necessarily slowed down or paused to enable resources to be used in the ongoing fight against coronavirus. Since 28 April, NHS services have been reopening, including cancer care, and I know that as part of that cancer teams across the country have been working extremely hard to deliver services in a safe way that does not put patients at risk of exposure to coronavirus. I urge anybody who has any concerns to contact their GP immediately. I hope it is of some reassurance that the vast majority of cancers detected through screening programmes are at a very early stage and so any impact on patients who were due to be screened is extremely low. I understand that more than 400,000 women were invited for breast screening between June and August, with thousands more invitations being sent every month. I strongly encourage anybody who receives an invitation to book an appointment.
I will continue to work with my colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that screening services are prioritised to help people to get the care that they need. I will continue to monitor this issue closely.
I have spoken with colleagues at HM Treasury about suggestions for the Comprehensive Spending Review taking place this year. The Integrated Review and Comprehensive Spending Reviews will conclude in the autumn, although I am regrettably not in a position to pre-empt their conclusions. I am, however, assured by my aforementioned colleagues that they are aware of the policy suggestions you raised.
With regard to after care, I am glad that the NHS is committed to ensuring that people live well with and beyond cancer, which remains a priority area within the Cancer Strategy. As I understand, NHS England are reviewing good practice approaches to reduce and manage the long term consequences of cancer treatments.
I completely understand concerns about the availability of breast reconstruction for women recovering from breast cancer. For many, this is an absolutely essential part of their recovery, and I am encouraged to hear that NHS England is working closely with local providers to ensure consistent care is available to all women in the country, in line with the guidance from the NHS’s Clinical Expert Group for Breast Cancer. I also welcome that the NICE guidance on breast cancer contains detailed guidelines for breast reconstruction.
The National Health Service Breast Screening Programme in England offers all women between the ages of 50 and 70 the opportunity to be screened every three years for breast cancer. These screenings play a key part in the early diagnosis of breast cancer, which is central to the Government’s ambition of achieving world-class cancer outcomes. You may be encouraged to hear that the NHS is trialling expanding compulsory screening to women aged between 47 and 73. This trial began in 2009 and is expected to run until the mid-2020s, until the NHS has sufficient information to understand its effectiveness.
I am encouraged that, as part of the annual £1 billion funding for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) from the Government each year, £882 million has been spent on cancer research since 2010 through the National Institute for Health Research, with annual spending on cancer research up by over £35 million since 2010. I also recognise the indispensable contribution made by charities in driving forward research into cancer, with Cancer Research UK alone spending £45 million on breast cancer over the last financial year.
While I understand that some trials have paused during the coronavirus pandemic, I welcome news that the NIHR and Clinical Research Network are working to support trials to restart, including through the NIHR's Framework for Restart.
I congratulate Breast Cancer Now and Breast Cancer Care for all of their work raising awareness of Breast Cancer.