Early cancer diagnosis could save 11,000 lives in the UK every year – and a new digital pathology pilot program is exploring ways to turn that potential into reality
Chris Scarisbrick |
At a Glance
- The UK aims to increase 10-year cancer survival by 30,000 patients a year – and digital pathology has a large part to play
- A pilot program at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust is exploring the intricacies of transitioning from traditional to digital pathology
- So far, pathologists in the program are enthusiastic about the increased efficiency, convenience and potential for communication and consultation
- Organizational and financial challenges are preventing widespread implementation of digital systems, but there are ways that these can, and should, be overcome
The UK’s Independent Cancer Taskforce has a radical new goal: to allow an additional 30,000 patients every year to become 10-year survivors of cancer by 2020 (1). That’s no small number – it’s nearly 10 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the UK, or nearly one-fifth of all UK cancer deaths (2). But it’s not an impossible goal; in fact, we could achieve more than one-third of it – 11,000 patients – by simply diagnosing them sooner. It seems clear that early diagnosis is an area worthy of more attention, and new plans to take action against cancer have sparked a national ambition to spot and stop the disease as early as possible.
Backed by National Health Service (NHS) England chief Simon Stevens, the taskforce’s plans call for significantly increased diagnostic capacity in the NHS. The aim is for 95 percent of patients to receive their results within four weeks, and to provide general practitioners with direct access to key investigative tests. But numbers alone will not be enough to deliver the increased diagnostic capability needed to make these ambitions reality. And when it comes to pathology – a key player in cancer diagnosis – many of the processes and practices in the NHS remain largely unchanged since the birth of modern pathology in the 19th century. The discipline has also been facing diminishing capacity and now battles with the serious challenge of attracting younger people, many of whom don’t relish the idea of decades at a microscope. So how can the NHS deliver the diagnostics needed to make it a reality?
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