CANCER experts have spoken of the importance of diagnosing the disease as early as possible, with the chance of survival more than three times higher when some of the most common types are diagnosed in the earlier stages.
Cancer Research UK said more than 90 per cent of patients are alive ten years after being diagnosed with eight cancers at stage one, compared with just 5 per cent of those who do not find out they have the disease until it has reached stage four.
The stage of a cancer is based on how large the tumour is and how far it has spread in the body. One of the main reasons early diagnosis improves survival is that more treatment options are available to patients when the disease is in its early stages and they are more effective.
Previous research has also shown it costs significantly less to treat patients who are diagnosed with early-stage cancers.
One in two people will develop cancer at some point in their lives and as more people benefit from improved healthcare and longer life expectancy, the number of cancer cases is expected to rise.
The charity said that for eight common cancers – bladder, bowel, breast, cervical, womb, malignant melanoma, ovarian and testicular – which together account for more than 40 per cent of all cancer cases, more than a quarter (27 per cent) are diagnosed at the later stages of three or four.
But around 80 per cent of patients diagnosed with these common cancers at the earlier stages of one or two survive for at least ten years.
Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, Sara Hiom, said: “These figures show the prize on offer if we can diagnose more cancers earlier.
“And, if the government acts on the recommendations in the new cancer strategy, we can increase the number of people diagnosed at an early stage across all cancer types – from around half of patients now to more than 60 per cent by 2020 –improving the outlook for thousands of people with the disease.
“Thanks to research, cancer survival has doubled in the last 40 years. But one in two people will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives.
“Early diagnosis and ensuring patients have access to the best treatment is essential to further improving survival from cancer. We need increased funding in NHS services and more research to develop tests to spot cancer sooner, and help more people to beat the disease.”
Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s GP expert, said: “Diagnosing cancer early isn’t always easy – the symptoms may be vague or similar to less serious conditions, so cancer isn’t always the first thing you or your doctor considers.
“It’s important that people are aware of their bodies and, if they notice any unusual or persistent changes, they should see their GP.
“GPs play a critical role in early diagnosis; knowing when symptoms need to be investigated and referring patients promptly for tests – as well as making sure patients get test results quickly.”