Cancer is the cause of just over a quarter of all deaths in England in a typical year. The most common cancers are breast, lung, prostate and bowel cancer.

In 2021, 134,802 people died from cancer in England. The number of deaths has increased by 6% since 2001. But after accounting for the fact that England’s population is both growing and ageing, the rate of cancer deaths has fallen by 23% among men and 16% among women.

The Library briefing Cancer statistics for England provides an overview of cancer statistics for England. It covers detailed information on cancer diagnoses up to 2020 and deaths up to 2021, as well as statistics on NHS screening and treatment.

NHS cancer services

The NHS Long Term Plan (January 2019) included an ambition of diagnosing three quarters of cancers at Stage one or two by 2028. It also outlined that where appropriate, every person diagnosed with cancer would have access to personalised care. This includes a care  plan and appropriate health and wellbeing information and support.

Chapter 3 of the Long Term Plan, Better care for major health conditions: Cancer also referred to ensuring that all GPs are using the latest evidence-based guidance from NICE to identify children, young people and adults at risk of cancer. The NHS England website provides further information on the Long Term Plan cancer commitments, including Rapid Diagnostic Centre (RDC) pathways and the Faster Diagnostic Standard (FDS), which are designed to speed up cancer diagnosis and improve patient experience.

NHS England has launched the Help Us Help You campaign to urge people with potential symptoms of cancer to see their GP. NHS England announced a further campaign to combat the fear of cancer on 1 March 2022.

The NHS currently offers bowel, cervical and breast screening. Coverage, which refers to the proportion of the eligible population who have been screened within the recommended time-period, has been falling for cervical and breast screening, but rising for bowel screening.

Around 300,000 people receive their first treatment for cancer each year in England’s NHS. There were 27,500 patients waiting for NHS cancer treatment in December 2022. This treatment backlog has been falling since late October 2022 but is still over double the pre-pandemic figure.

On 24 January 2023 the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay, announced there would be a new strategy covering major conditions, including cancer. The strategy signals a shift to integrated, whole person care for the increasing numbers of people in England with complex and multiple long term conditions. He said that the Strategy will sets out “a shift to integrated, whole-person care”, building on measures already taken forward through the NHS Long Term Plan.

This strategy also draws on previous work on cancer, including over 5,000 submissions provided to the Department of Health and Social Care as part of a call for evidence to develop the 10 Year Cancer Plan, held between February and April 2022 (PQ153868, 7 March 2023). 

Cancer Research UK’s Cancer in the UK: Overview 2023 (PDF) includes some statistical analysis and information on key challenges facing cancer services across the UK, looking at where progress is being made and what issues remain. Later this year, Cancer Research UK will set out its vision, priorities and targeted actions for how the UK can transform cancer research and care. Cancer Research UK note that four in ten cancer cases in the UK could have been prevented, with smoking and unhealthy weight being leading risks. They call on governments across the UK to do more to help people reduce their risk of cancer by prioritising prevention and measures to improve public health.

The impact of the pandemic on cancer services

NHS England published a cancer services recovery plan on 14 December 2020. The plan outlines actions under the three key aims for recovering cancer services. These are to restore demand at least to pre-pandemic levels, take immediate steps to reduce the number of people waiting over 62 days from urgent referral and ensure sufficient capacity to meet demand.

The Delivery plan for tackling the COVID-19 backlog of elective care, published on 8 February 2022, noted that the NHS has continued to prioritise cancer treatment throughout the pandemic and said “we have consistently seen record levels of urgent suspected cancer referrals since March 2021. To maintain this focus, our ambition is that, by March 2024, 75% of patients who have been urgently referred by their GP for suspected cancer are diagnosed or have cancer ruled out within 28 days.”


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