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Detecting cancer earlier is one of the most effective ways to improve survival. It means patients can receive treatment sooner, making it more likely the cancer can be cured.  

An NIHR Collection has been published, which explores recent NIHR-supported research into the early detection of cancer. This Collection provides examples of recently published research that explores opportunities to improve the early detection of cancer. Addressing the needs of specific groups, new tests, or considering changes to current national screening programmes are all important.  

Included in the Collection is a study by Garth Funston et al, partly funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research, which showed a blood test could give women a personalised risk assessment for ovarian cancer. The test, for women with abdominal symptoms such as pain or bloating, was most accurate in those aged over 50. The study included data from 50,000 women who had taken the test at their GP surgery. As well as identifying women at risk of ovarian cancer, the test also picked up the risk of other cancers, including those of the pancreas and lung. Both these studies provide information that could guide GPs' decisions on the need for further investigation or urgent referral to specialists. 

More people are surviving cancer than ever before, but even more lives could be saved by catching more cancers early. Kamal Mahtani, GP & Associate Professor, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford explains 

“Identifying cancer early is often critical to increasing the chances of improved management and better outcomes for patients. This is all the more important following the pandemic. But we know that there are considerable knowledge gaps in this field. Therefore, this research is timely and vital and will help ensure that patients have equitable access to evidence-informed cancer screening programmes underpinned by the highest technological advancements at the earliest point possible.”  

Cancer survival has been improving in the UK, but it still lags behind comparable countries. The NHS Long Term Plan aims to save thousands more lives each year by dramatically improving how and when cancer is detected and treated. It sets the ambition that, by 2028, 75% of people with cancer will be diagnosed at an early stage (up from just over 50%). 

Visit the NIHR website to read the Collection in full and learn more about the studies that highlight the promising new findings in the drive to find more cancers at an early stage.