Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day launches with call for commitment to increasing survival rates

The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) has now launched a new day of awareness to highlight the ‘critical importance’ of early diagnosis.

The first Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day took place yesterday, on 11 January, to underline how early detection can improve survival and quality of life – and to urge people with symptoms to seek professional medical help.

The LSCT represents six ‘less survivable’ cancers: lung, liver, brain, oesophageal, pancreatic and stomach. These account for a quarter of cancers in the UK, have an average five-year survival rate of just 16 per cent and, according to the LSCT, make up nearly half of all common cancer deaths in the UK.

The taskforce also adds that ‘less survivable cancers are difficult to diagnose’ and that ‘many patients with a less survivable cancer will only be diagnosed after an emergency admission to hospital or an emergency GP referral’, once symptoms have become more severe.

LSCT explains that lack of both screening programmes and general public awareness are part of its concerns, with much of the public ‘unaware of common symptoms’. Data released by the taskforce in 2021 shows that ‘awareness of the symptoms of the deadliest cancers is as low as 4 per cent in the UK’.

As well as placing the focus on symptom awareness, the LSCT is also calling for all UK governments to commit to increasing survival rates for less survivable cancers to 28 per cent by 2029, through the elimination of ‘avoidable delays in diagnosis’ and by ‘proactively investing in research and treatment options’.

Anna Jewell, Chair of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce, said: “We know that delays in diagnosis lead to much poorer outcomes for patients with these rapidly-advancing cancers. We also know the trauma associated with receiving a diagnosis in an emergency setting for both patients and families. 

“These cancers are currently difficult or impossible to treat at later stages and the time from diagnosis to death is often brutally short compared to more survivable cancers. The situation is critical and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Taskforce is calling for a significant increase in research funding as well as a commitment to increasing resources for early diagnosis for less survivable cancers so we can close the deadly cancer gap.”

Andrew Millar, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist at the North Middlesex University Hospital, added: “Late presentation is a key reason that some cancers are hard to treat. Advanced disease means there are fewer options for treatment and often results in rapid deterioration leaving families and friends bewildered and shocked. Early diagnosis is crucial if we are going to tackle this problem and fight the stark inequalities in the survival rates of different cancers.

“Substantial investment in diagnostic equipment and staff is urgently needed, together with better support for research into new diagnostic methods and GPs need better access to diagnostic tests. We need national screening programmes for those identified as being at higher risk of cancer, particularly for the less common, less survivable cancers.”

The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce says its ‘key message is to seek medical help swiftly if you notice anything is unusual for you’. It adds that ‘typical symptoms will vary but red flags for less survivable cancers could include’ any of: indigestion, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, a loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, a persistent cough, unexplained tiredness, headaches or nausea.