In your article, “Health boards fail to hit targets on cancer treatments” (25 September), the minister for health, Alex Neil, rightly identifies the direct effect of the Detect Cancer Early initiative which, by increasing referrals, is putting a strain on cancer services and, thus, challenging health board waiting times. However, the answer, to invest an extra £30 million in Detecting Cancer Early, is, to say the least, perverse.
Screening programmes and the aggressive campaigns accompanying them may be increasing the number of people being diagnosed with early stage “cancers” but many of these “cancers” are not real cancers, but pre-cancerous cells or pseudo cancers, a high proportion of which would never become life threatening and which, without screening, would remain undetected during a lifetime.
Unfortunately, once these non-cancers are detected, clinicians are unable to tell if or when they would become life threatening and therefore these non-cancers are treated the same as cancer. The harm of this course of action with breast cancer screening is well documented (eg, unnecessary mastectomies/radiotherapy).
Add in to this equation the fact that while the incidence of breast cancer is increasing in the 50-plus age group there is no corresponding decrease of incidence in the 60-plus age group.
Improved drug and treatment regimes are making a huge contribution to the decreasing mortality rate from cancer. Surely we have to question whether our scarce NHS resources would be better spent on ensuring that 100 per cent of symptomatic patients who have life-threatening cancers are treated within a minimum of, say, 28 days and that they have access to all essential cancer drugs rather than needlessly “creating” cancer patients?
My Health Improvement, Efficiency, Access to Services and Treatment target would be to decrease the number of people dying from cancer, not increase the number of people being diagnosed with it.