Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths, or nearly one in six deaths, in 2020. Experts also predict that population growth and ageing will lead to a big increase in the number of people being diagnosed with cancer by 2040, which is estimated to increase to 30 million, a 47 per cent rise compared to 2020. At the same time, the number of cancer deaths is predicted to rise to 16 million.
The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK has nearly 75 years’ experience as an integrated healthcare system in responding to the cancer challenge and is available free to all citizens – and has set new standards that will help diagnose more cancers earlier and save more lives. But like all systems, it faces major challenges which demand constant innovation.
These challenges span changes in the nature and prevalence of disease and the rapid growth of older populations. Meanwhile, healthcare is being driven by a revolution in innovative technologies such as digital health, robotics, precision medicine and the Internet of Things, which are already having a great impact on patient care. The global digital health market is expected to grow by around 30 per cent annually over the next 10 years; at the same time, the precision medicine and IoT markets are expected to see a tenfold increase, and the surgical robotics market is expected to expand fivefold over five years.
Faced with rising demand, spiralling costs, gaps in workforce and increased public expectations, health systems must innovate. The NHS has developed a system that encourages cutting-edge research and imaginative solutions to translate into real patient care. For example, Genomics England’s Cancer 2.0 programme is exploring long-read sequencing technology and multimodal data to support earlier, faster diagnosis of cancer; and Manchester’s iMatch consortium of NHS, University and industry partners is identifying new advanced therapies for cancer treatment.
Diagnosing cancer earlier is one of the biggest actions the NHS can take to improve cancer survival — and this is vital to improving outcomes. Today, it is accelerating the uptake of the latest technologies and newest approaches to achieve this ambitious target.
So what do these cancer innovations look like?
Some of the most exciting innovations are in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Many NHS hospitals such as Leeds Teaching NHS Trust have found that digitally enabled pathology speeds up diagnosis. Others, such as The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, have used combinations, e.g., of MRI scans and targeted biopsies to speed up the diagnosis of prostate cancer to no more than 10 days. Some have embedded patient-supplied data into their care pathway, reducing the need for outpatient appointments and the wait time for patients to access diagnostic tests.
New, more accessible rapid diagnostic centres have made diagnosis faster, and genetic testing hubs such as the Royal Marsden’s bring novel testing to patients to get them diagnosed quicker. Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust is driving down missed appointments by creating a virtual radiology department, an interactive 3D world that allows children to familiarise themselves with the sights and sounds they will experience prior to treatment.
In treatment, NHS innovation is also seen in a wide array of new surgical techniques and world-first procedures. For example, the use of AI to detect early signs of oesophageal cancer through a new non-invasive procedure at University College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and pioneering robotic surgery for bowel cancer carried out at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust. In December last year, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust announced the successful use of base edited T-cell treatment for “incurable” leukaemia, making it the first of its kind in the world.
Meanwhile, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been evaluating and approving new treatments, most recently for lung, gastroesophageal, skin and triple negative breast cancers. But it is not only in hospital settings that innovation can be seen.
Helping people identify if they are at risk of disease gives the best opportunity to prevent ill health, as deployed successfully by the NHS in its Help Us, Help You campaign, a major drive to increase early diagnosis of cancers in primary care, offering a cancer toolkit to support detection in family medicine.
When patients leave hospital, it looks at how can relapse be prevented, or patients at risk are monitored effectively in the community to enable early interventions. Remote monitoring connected to smart devices and applications can alert clinicians to those most in need of follow up, as seen in Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust’s automated decision system for surveillance endoscopies and the Royal Marsden’s use of genomics for disease monitoring.
The UK’s leading NHS hospitals want to work with overseas healthcare partners to share these exciting ideas and solutions, having over 70 years’ experience of innovation using research based clinical pathways, the most advanced science and excellent training, equipment and digital systems to improve cancer outcomes.
Collaborate with the UK
The UK is relentlessly focused on harnessing our world-class science, data and research ecosystem, and the latest technology, to the cause of driving earlier diagnosis and improving outcomes for cancer patients.
The UK Government attended Arab Health 2023 in Dubai and we showcased how British innovations can tackle some of today’s most pressing challenges. One of our ambitions is to share our learnings and debate these key issues, and the role this is playing in defining the future of healthcare. We discussed some of the healthcare problems of our generation, including cancer, in our UK seminars.
Our session, ‘Innovation in Cancer Services – putting the patient first’, brought together leading experts to highlight how the UK and UAE are meeting the challenges of cancer care and to demonstrate the impact of innovation from both countries. It looked at cancer prevention, diagnostics, treatment and care and how innovation is promoted and developed, especially in the use of genetics services and AI technologies in cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Chris Born is a Healthcare Specialist at Healthcare UK Department for International Trade.
This article appears in Arab Health Daily Dose 2023. Read the full issue online today.
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