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Five-year plan to improve UK cancer care

Greater restrictions on smoking and the use of sunbeds are among the measures being considered by the Government in a sweeping plan to improve cancer care and survival rates in the UK.

The five-year-plan announced by Health Secretary Alan Johnson is being supported by a £370m investment.

Breast cancer screening with state-of-the-art digital mammography equipment will be extended.

The NHS Bowel Screening Program will be rolled out to cover larger groups of people.

The Government also pledged to increase radiotherapy capacity over the next three years by investing £200m in new equipment and staff.

“I want to build world class-cancer services that give NHS patients access to top quality treatment at every stage,” Mr Johnson said.

Other measures include earlier diagnosis and treatment, extending cancer screening, fast-track drug approval and extended services for cancer survivors, according to the Health Department.

Mr Johnson said that the Government would help people quit smoking, tighten cigarette sales, as well as control the use of sunbeds to help reduce cases of skin cancer.

According to Government statistics, the NHS has improved significantly the quality of care for cancer patients since Labour came to office 10 years ago.

Mortality rates in the under 75s have fallen by 17% between 1996 and 2005, saving 60,000 lives.

The DoH said the country was on track to meet its target of a 20% reduction in cancer deaths by 2010.

However, studies in August showed that Britain was lagging behind other European countries in cancer care, despite huge amounts of money being invested. In Britain, the five-year survival was about 42% for men and 52% for women, while the European average was 45 and 55 respectively.

Opposition parties also said the huge funding increase in cancer treatment during the past 10 years had failed to translate into comparable survival rates.

“The sad truth is that too much investment has been wasted on organisational upheaval and top-down bureaucracy,” Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said.