The government’s 10-year plan has strategies to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment
“Here in the UK, we linked the primary care records of millions of people to the latest Covid-19 data meaning that we were able to conduct the world’s largest analysis of coronavirus risk factors.” Sajid Javid, health and social care secretary
The government’s new 10-year plan to tackle cancer includes an increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
In a speech on Friday health secretary Sajid Javid set out the government’s plans to transform cancer care in the UK. He said that in the UK, someone was diagnosed with cancer every 90 seconds, and that there are 166,000 deaths every year from the disease.
Javid put a strong emphasis on innovation in the government’s approach to tackling cancer, saying: “This plan will show how we are learning the lessons from the pandemic, and apply them to improving cancer services over the next decade.” He added: “It will take a far-reaching look at how we want cancer care to be in 2032 – ten years from now. Looking at all stages, from prevention, to diagnosis, to treatment and vaccines.”
He said that the plan would show that the government had learnt lessons from the pandemic that could be applied to improving cancer services.
The plan will have a strong focus on prevention, he said, including making England smoke-free by 2030. A new Tobacco Control Plan for England will focus on “reducing smoking rates in the most disadvantaged areas and groups.” The government also plans to reduce alcohol consumption and halve childhood obesity by 2030.
Javid also said there would be a greater emphasis on early diagnosis. The Targeted Lung Health Checks Programme “offers a shining example of what can be done,” he said. The programme involves taking mobile trucks into local communities in areas where people are most at risk. Within the programme, 80% of lung cancers are being diagnosed at an early stage, compared to less than 30% before, he said.
The new community diagnostic centres are offering patients quicker and easier access to cancer tests, and have already carried out 400,000 tests, Javid said.
As well as working on prevention and diagnosis, he went on, the government would improve treatment by “deploying the most cutting-edge technologies like AI” and using immuno-oncology which uses “the power of the body’s own immune system to prevent, to control, and eliminate cancer.”
To intensify research in this area, he said, would involve “building on the huge advances that were made during the pandemic on mRNA technology.”
The mRNA vaccine technology – which prompts the immune system to recognise and attack a foreign body – had not been deployed until the pandemic came along, but the world moved very fast to make use of it. This technology, Javid explained, could be used in the treatment of cancer. These new technologies would be reliant on analysing large quantities of data: “Here in the UK, we linked the primary care records of millions of people to the latest Covid-19 data meaning that we were able to conduct the world’s largest analysis of coronavirus risk factors.”
The advantage of a single national health care system is that “we have all this valuable data effectively stored in one place,” he added. That includes a cancer registry that logs every single cancer case stored in England. The OpenSAFELY analytics platform has been used to identify which areas of the country have lower rates of testing for prostate cancer, making it possible to take targeted action. This experience could be built on to drive the use of data further, Javid said.