NHS England has indicated its intention to increase funding for cancer treatment by the largest amount in fifteen years.
The healthcare organisation states that £130 million will be spent on upgrading radiotherapy machines.
It is hoped that this will have a positive impact on the survival opportunities of cancer sufferers.
The upgrade of at least 100 linear accelerator machines across the country will ensure more patients benefit from state-of-the-art intensity-modulated radiotherapy.
These enable tumours to be targeted with more precision than is possible with previous technology.
Higher doses can also be delivered with the new machinery, meaning that patient stays in hospital can be reduced in duration.
Statistics already indicate that radiotherapy is more effective in curing cancer than drugs.
Linear accelerator machines should be replaced every decade, yet around 20% currently operating in the NHS system have been operable for longer than ten years.
According to Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, software updates and technical upgrades are required for many of the machines in the NHS.
“One of the things we were quite clear about in the strategy was that if you look at the proportion of treatment that is delivered as intensity-modulated radiotherapy across the country, it varies quite widely,” said Kumar. “Uptake varies two to three-fold across the country. About half the machines in the country are going to be upgraded in the next two years.”
Kumar headed the independent Cancer Taskforce, which drew up the NHS cancer strategy and recommended the investment in radiotherapy machines.
Meanwhile, Mia Rosenblatt, assistant director of policy and campaigns at Breast Cancer Now, welcomed the news on radiotherapy, while also striking a note of caution.
“We are delighted by today’s announcement of investment into new Linacs: radiotherapy is an essential treatment for breast cancer patients, and upgrades to radiotherapy equipment is much overdue. However, it is still too early to tell if the strategy will be successful and the next year will be the real test of how the strategy will benefit breast cancer patients in England. We will continue to follow progress carefully.”
But the Royal College of Radiologists, naturally an authority on the subject, suggested that the new funding was insufficient.
“Although the funding announced is to be welcomed, if the government wishes to achieve world class cancer outcomes by 2020, significantly more investment in radiotherapy services is required at least up to the equivalent level announced for Scotland,” asserted Dr Jeanette Dickson, vice president of clinical oncology at the college.
In March, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a £50 million investment in radiotherapy services.
Cancer survival is improving and has doubled in the last 40 years in the UK.