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If only brain tumour research could be funded in the same way as leukaemia and other cancers

Increased support for GPs to diagnose cancer

The announcement of increased support for GPs to diagnose cancer last week is an extremely welcome step by the Government and we fully support the programme. Earlier diagnosis and prompt treatment are essential to saving lives in the fight against cancer and we call on the new support to be as wide ranging as possible, including the symptoms of rarer cancers such as brain tumours.

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By diagnosing a cancer early we are in a much better position to treat and cure it. Far more options are open to doctors and there is the chance to catch the tumour before it has grown or spread to levels where an operation or other treatment is not feasible. There is a clear correlation between survival rate and early diagnosis but unfortunately in the UK far too many people are being diagnosed when their tumour is already in an advanced stage.

The Route to Diagnosis project by the National Cancer Intelligence Network has found that 23% of all cancers are diagnosed in A&E as an emergency. This figure is even more shocking when broken down to brain tumours and CNS cancer, where 58% of all patients are diagnosed late as an emergency presentation.  On top of this, the Government has announced that the target of 85% of cancer patients treated within 62 days of referral has been missed. 15,000 patients waited longer than the 62 day target, the worst performance the NHS has recorded on this current measure.

Thousands of patients could be saved if diagnosed earlier and treated faster and we hope that this new project will be the beginning of shift towards better care for cancer patients.

The new guidelines for GPs are open for a public consultation which Brain Tumour Research will take part in. While we support the general aim of the project we will argue that focus for GPs should be on symptoms of less common cancers as these are where patients are most likely to face a late diagnosis. It is of course difficult for GPs to diagnose cancers such as brain tumours as they do not see the symptoms often, with the average GP only seeing very few brain cancer patients a year. This difficulty is exactly why the Department of Health and NHS need to focus on ensuring the support is there for GPs to spot these cancers and save lives.

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Increase in cancer survival shows power of research

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Only through long-term, sustainable research can we find the cure for brain tumours.

We echo Cancer Research’s headline from their latest report following the release of the latest Office of National Statistics report on survival rates.

We welcome their report and – as reported by us on Friday 31st October – the encouraging news that for brain tumours five-year survival has increased by 1% to 19.8% but this is still significantly lower than many other cancers.

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-us/cancer-news/news-report/2014-10-31-increase-in-cancer-survival-shows-power-of-research

“Cancer remains a huge challenge,” said Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician.

“Although we have made great progress against it, it’s still the highest cause of deaths in England and Wales, accounting for more than one in four of all deaths in 2013. This is partly because people in the UK are living longer.

“Cancer is more common in older people because there is more time for faults in cells to develop – these faults trigger the disease.”

Survival rates among cancer patients have doubled in the last four decades thanks to increased research, with experts aiming to see three-quarters of people surviving the disease within the next 20 years.

But for some types of cancer there has been little improvement. Pancreatic, lung, oesophageal and brain tumour survival rates continue to buck the positive trend.

More than 8 out of 10 people affected by cancers of the breast (in women), prostate, testis and thyroid gland, and for Hodgkin lymphoma and melanoma of the skin, now survive for at least five years, as medical advances come to the fore.

“This increase in survival shows the power of research – thanks to better treatments, earlier diagnosis and greater awareness, more people are surviving cancer than ever before,” said Nick Ormiston-Smith, head of statistical information at Cancer Research UK.

In comparison, the outlook for cancers of the brain, lung, oesophagus, liver, pancreas, stomach and for mesothelioma remains a challenge. Five-year survival in these cases is less than 22%, while for pancreatic cancer the figure sits at 5%.

Professor Johnson warned there is still much to do when it comes to cancer survival rates:

“Earlier diagnosis, access to the right treatment at the right time, and preventing the disease through lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking all play a role in beating cancer.”

The final thought on this comes from our Chief Excecutive, Sue Farrington Smith: “We must continue to fund long-term brain tumour research through our Centres of Excellence. As yet we do not fully understand the behaviour of all 120+ types of brain tumour nor do we understand the causes, so brain tumours cannot be prevented. Please help us fund the fight to improve treatments and find the cure.”

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New Cancer Survival Statistics

The Office for National Statistics cancer survival statistics released yesterday (Adults Diagnosed 2008 to 2012, followed up to 2013) show once again that Brain tumours continue to have one of the poorest survival rates of all cancers. Only 19.8% of patients survive five years after their initial diagnosis, the 19th highest out of the 24 common cancers published, with a marginal improvement of only 1% since the 2007 – 2011 statistics.

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Brain tumour one year survival rates now stand at 45%, sharply falling to 19.8% after five years, and have not improved at the same rates as other cancers. As Cancer Research UK’s report earlier this year highlighted, brain tumour survival rates have increased by 7.5% since the 1970s while overall cancer survival rates doubled from around 25% to more than 50%.

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under 40 than any other cancer and have not achieved comparable survival rates over the last 40 years of other cancers. Despite this it received only £6.8 million a year from NCRI members for research into new treatments in 2013. The only way to improve upon the figures released today is to substantially increase in research funding. Without increased funds, researchers with new, ground-breaking ideas will be deterred from working in brain tumour research simply due to the lack of funding opportunities and we continue to see only 19.8% of those diagnosed with brain tumours will survive five years.

ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/cancer-unit/cancer-survival-in-england–adults-diagnosed/2008-to-2012–followed-up-to-2013/stb-cancer-survival.html

Cancer Resarch UK: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-us/cancer-news/press-release/2014-04-29-half-of-all-cancer-patients-now-survive-at-least-10-years

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Government support for Saatchi Bill

The Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, has pledged his support for a new law permitting terminal patients treatment with untested medicines.  The Medical Innovation Bill, also known as the Saatchi Bill, is due to be debated in Parliament next week and could well see a significant improvement in patient care and advancement in treatments for rarer cancers, such as brain tumours.

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The Saatchi Bill, the brainchild of Lord Maurice Saatchi, will provide legal protection for clinicians offering new or different options where existing treatments have failed. By removing the fear of being sued from doctors, it is thought that many patients could bypass lengthy or non-existent clinical trials and allow for a more flexible and effective series of treatments for previously fatal diseases. Lord Saatchi launched his campaign earlier this year and has won over many initial critics, including Mr Hunt and the Department of Health.

We believe that this new law is a positive step for all patients with brain tumours as it allows for greater patient choice, as well as for an increase in trials and research into this terrible disease. We are calling on Parliament to approve the Bill.

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Parliament discusses patients travelling for proton beam therapy

The number of patients traveling abroad to receive proton beam therapy in the last 5 years has been published by the Government. In response to a question by Tessa Munt, Member of Parliament for Wells, Jane Ellison MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, published the figures below that show the number of patients funded for the treatment increasing from 20 to 124 in the last five years.

Children Adults Total Location
2009-10 8 12 20 France, USA and Switzerland
2010-11 30 20 50 USA (38 patients) and Switzerland (12)
2011-12 66 13 79 USA (majority of patients) and Switzerland
2012-13 83 16 99 USA (majority of patients) and Switzerland
2013-141 103 21 124 All USA
1 Figure includes treatments given and treatments due to be given following approval.

Proton treatment works by targeting radiation in a range of beams from different directions at a tumour, leaving healthy tissue surrounding the tumour unharmed. There are several countries that offer this therapy but the majority of the patients from the UK have travelled to the USA. While it is currently unavailable on the NHS, from 2018 it will be available to patients across the country at University College London Hospital and The Christie in Manchester.

We would like to thank Tessa Munt MP for her question and raising the issue of access to proton therapy treatments up the political agenda. As the recent Ashya King story has reminded us, all families want the best treatment for their loved ones and are willing to travel vast distances to secure it. We believe more funding should be guaranteed so that new treatments such as proton beam therapy are both created and available in the UK.

You can sign our epetition calling for government to act on brain tumours at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/55378

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