ALMOST half of cancer patients in the south west are diagnosed too late to give them the best chance of survival, according to new calculations released today by Cancer Research UK.

In just one year, around 12,800 cancer patients in the south west are diagnosed late (at stage 3 or 4), claims the charity.

And of these, around 7,400 are diagnosed at the most advanced stage – stage 4 – leaving them with fewer treatment options and less chance of surviving their disease.

Dr Giles Maskell, Cancer Research UK’s radiology expert who is based at Royal Cornwall Hospital NHS Trust, said: “We can feel the bottleneck tightening in the NHS – the pressure is mounting on diagnostic staff. We don’t have nearly enough radiologists in the UK right now and far too many patients are waiting too long for scans and results.

“NHS staff are working as hard as they can, but we won’t be able to care for the rising number of cancer patients unless the resources are found to train more specialist staff. Extra scanners are welcome, but they will achieve nothing without staff to run them and experts to interpret the scans. It’s like buying a fleet of planes with no pilots to fly them.”

Cancer Research UK is calling on everyone in the region to support its Shoulder to Shoulder campaign and take a stand to save more lives.

The charity is asking people to add their names to an online petition urging the Government to train and employ more NHS staff to diagnose and treat cancer early.

Last year, the Government made an important pledge to improve the number of people diagnosed with early stage cancer – a jump from two in four diagnosed early to three in four by 2028.

Alison Birkett, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the south west, said: “NHS staff are working tirelessly to offer the best care possible, and the NHS is implementing important new initiatives to address late diagnosis and improve staff efficiency.

“But there just aren’t enough of the right staff available on the ground now, and there are no plans to significantly increase the numbers needed to transform the health service.

“This is why we are calling on people in the south west to add their names to our petition calling on the Government to train and employ more NHS staff to diagnose and treat cancer early.”

An earlier diagnosis can be the difference between life and death. If bowel cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage, more than nine in 10 people will survive, but if it is diagnosed at the latest stage, just one in 10 people will survive their disease for at least five years.

Efforts to diagnose more patients at an early stage means more people being referred urgently for tests, a vital shift for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said: “It’s unacceptable that so many people are diagnosed late. Although survival has improved, it’s not happening fast enough. More referrals to hospital means we urgently need more staff. The Government’s inaction on staff shortages is crippling the NHS, failing cancer patients and the doctors and nurses who are working tirelessly to diagnose and treat them.

“By 2035, one person every minute will be diagnosed with cancer in the UK but there’s no plan to increase the number of NHS staff to cope with demand now or the growing numbers in the future. Saving lives from cancer needs to be top of the agenda for the new Government and it must commit to investing in vital NHS staff now to ensure no one dies from cancer unnecessarily.”

For more information and to sign up to Cancer Research UK’s petition, visit