New cancer strategy launched to improve survival

Ten year plan to tackle disease.

A new 10-year Cancer Strategy aims to significantly cut the number of people diagnosed with later stage cancer and to reduce the health inequalities associated with the disease.

Currently around 42% of cancers are diagnosed at the later stages but through continued investment in the Detect Cancer Earlier (DCE) Programme the ambition is to reduce the number diagnosed at stages III and IV in year 10 of the plan to 24%. That would mean around 5,000 fewer people diagnosed with later stage disease in the year 2033.

The strategy is underpinned by a three-year Cancer Action Plan that contains 136 actions. Both documents focus on improving all areas of cancer services, from prevention and diagnosis through to treatment and post-treatment care, with a particular focus on the currently less-survivable cancers.

Health Secretary Michael Matheson, launched the plan at the Cancer Centre at Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, where he met staff delivering the Single Point of Contact service, which helps ensure patients have dedicated person-centred support throughout their treatment.

Mr Matheson said:

“Our absolute focus is to improve cancer survival and make sure everyone gets excellent and accessible care. The pandemic had a significant impact on all aspects of health and social care, and cancer services were no exception. This Cancer Strategy will make sure we are properly delivering these vital services and clearly directing future investments.

“The strategy takes a strong public health approach, which means more cancers will be prevented. Those who require diagnostics and treatment will have prompt access to quality services. As well as being able to cure more people, we also recognise the importance of treatment to extend good quality life and the provision of excellent palliative care.

“The Scottish Cancer Network will be at the heart of our strategic ambitions, setting out agreed best clinical practice and assuring people with cancer of common standards of care, no matter where they live. We will continue to work closely alongside the NHS, third sector, and industry to deliver quality cancer services for the people of Scotland. The new Scottish Cancer Strategic Board will provide oversight of the strategy and action plan.”

Chair of the Scottish Cancer Coalition and Public Affairs Manager for Cancer Research UK in Scotland Dr Sorcha Hume said:

“The Scottish Cancer Coalition works with the Scottish Government to ensure that the voice of cancer charities and patients is heard. We therefore welcome the publication of the new Cancer Strategy for Scotland 2023-2033.

“Our NHS is under more pressure than ever, and it is our sincere hope that this strategy is the first step towards better cancer services for the people of Scotland. It is vital however that implementation is swift, and that the strategy is adequately funded.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the Scottish Government to realise our shared ambition of improving cancer outcomes for everyone in Scotland.”

Lorraine Dallas, Chair of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce Scotland and Director of Information, Prevention and Support at the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said:

“The new Cancer Strategy for Scotland is a big step in the right direction for people diagnosed with one of the less survivable cancers.

“Those include cancers of the pancreas, lung, stomach, liver, brain and oesophagus (the less survivable cancers) which have an average five-year survival of just 16% from diagnosis. Lung cancer remains Scotland’s single biggest cause of cancer death and a continued focus and action to address this should be an urgent priority.

“We’re encouraged to see a clear commitment to taking action on those cancer types that have the poorest survival. We now need significant investment in research and action to improve cancer diagnostic and treatment services.

“Early diagnosis is crucial when it comes to cancer survival. We know that less survivable cancers are far more likely to be diagnosed in the later stages of the disease and this has a significant impact on treatment options.

“We will work closely with the Government, patients and clinicians to ensure that we now see action to give people who are diagnosed with these cancers a better chance of survival.”


Cancer strategy –

Cancer action plan –

  • The strategic aim is underpinned by 8 outcomes:
  • Reduced relative population burden of disease
  • Reduced later stage diagnosis
  • Timely access to treatment
  • More people receiving curative treatment
  • Improved experience of services, across all areas of care
  • Optimised quality of life for each individual
  • Embedded research, innovation and data capture in all services
  • The strategy outlines our 11 ambitions for cancer:
  • Preventing More Cancer
  • Earlier and Faster Diagnosis
  • Best Preparation for Treatment
  • Safe, Realistic and Effective Treatment
  • Excellent Care and Support after Treatment
  • Sustained and Skilled Workforce
  • Person-Centred Care for All
  • Tackling Inequalities
  • Mental Health as part of Basic Care
  • Flourishing Research and Innovation
  • Cancer Information and Intelligence led Services

Cancer remains the largest burden of disease across Scotland and has seen an ongoing increase in incidence. There were over 35,000 new cancers registered in 2021, an increase of 5.5% compared with 2019.

We are seeing reduced death rates, with an 11% reduction over the last 10 years. Data published in 2022 showed that, for adults who were diagnosed with cancer, more than two thirds of males (69%) and females (72%) survived for at least one year, and 44% of males and 51% of females survived for at least five years.

The earlier a person is diagnosed with cancer, the more likely they are to have a good outcome. In 2021, four out of five breast cancers (78%) were diagnosed at an early stage (I or II). In contrast, two-thirds of lung cancers (66%) and more than two in five colorectal cancers (44%) were diagnosed at a late stage (Stage III or IV).


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