Cancer survival rates have improved since the introduction of a special NHS plan to tackle the disease, but more research is needed to see if it is working effectively, a study suggests.
Experts from Cancer Research UK's cancer survival group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at survival rates for 21 common cancers in England – where a major cancer plan had been introduced in 2000 – and compared them with rates in Wales, which did not adopt a plan until late 2006.
The study, published online in the Lancet Oncology journal, showed that the cancer plan in England appeared to be helping improve survival rates despite wide regional variations.
For cancers of the stomach, colon, rectum, uterus, ovary and kidney, survival trends in England improved after 2001 following the initialisation of the plan, even without screening or the widespread use of effective new treatments.
However, bladder cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukaemia all showed a drop in survival rates.
Overall, the authors conclude: "These different patterns of survival suggest some beneficial effect of the NHS cancer plan for England, although the data does not so far provide a definitive assessment of the effectiveness of the plan."
Commenting on the study, the government's cancer tsar, Professor Mike Richards, said the findings were "robust" but not conclusive, questioning whether measuring survival alone was a good indicator of if a cancer plan was working.