Cancer Update: Children and Young People Cancer Taskforce

Department of Health and Social Care written statement – made at on 6 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Hon. Friend Minister of State (Minister for Health and Secondary Care) (Andrew Stephenson) has made the the following Written Statement:

With World Cancer Day this week, I want to take this opportunity to affirm to the House this Government’s commitment to delivering the best cancer services for everyone across England.

I am pleased to inform the House that I am launching a Children and Young People Cancer Taskforce, dedicated to tackling those cancers that affect our children and young people. This is part of our commitment to delivering world-leading cancer services – and our mission to save lives.

Although children’s and young people’s cancers make up a small proportion of overall cancer diagnoses, cancers are one of the biggest causes of death in children and young people. While survival is improving, with childhood cancer survival rates in the UK having more than doubled since the 1970s, more invasive cancers have lower survival rates. And the long-term impacts of cancer and of treatment can cause challenges for decades.

In this House we have heard about the devastating impact cancer has on children and young people, and the life-changing impact on their families. I express my gratitude to the families who, despite unimaginable grief, have shared their stories with both Houses, campaigning in the hope that no more families will have to suffer. I commend all the Honourable Members who have shone a light on these stories and I welcome their support for this new initiative.

This taskforce represents an opportunity to take dedicated action working across organisations to unify and drive progress. It offers us the chance to meaningfully change how we detect, treat and care for children and young people with cancer.

Through this taskforce, I will be inviting experts to discuss how to improve treatment, detection and research into children’s and young people’s cancers. I am delighted to announce that the Hon. Member for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage MP) has been appointed as Chair of the taskforce, given her campaigning on childhood cancer, her reputation as an exceptional Parliamentarian, and her knowledge, experience and dedication.

Areas of focus for the taskforce will include:

  • Genomic testing and treatment – to ensure all children get timely access to high quality personalised treatments.
  • Detection and diagnosis – to ensure earlier diagnosis to give children and young people the best chance to beat cancer.
  • Research and innovation – to explore children’s access to clinical trials, gain greater access to data, target our research funding, and encourage consideration of innovative solutions.

It is important to recognise the excellent work already underway in children’s and young people’s cancers. Rather than seeking to replicate this work, the taskforce is intended to be a unifying force, identifying various projects underway across organisations: including health, science, research, charity and international sectors. It will forge connections, strengthen collaboration, and drive progress in tackling children’s and young people’s cancers.

Following a period of planning and engagement, the taskforce will meet from spring-time onwards. Its work will feed into, and align with, the Major Conditions Strategy. I will update the House on its progress in due course.

I will of course keep the House updated on wider progress on cancer. We are improving cancer survival and earlier diagnosis, in part thanks to innovations like lung health checks targeting those at greatest risk of developing lung cancer, with checks mostly carried out in supermarket car parks and other community spaces – reaching those who might not normally come forward. We are also supporting initiatives such as Prostate Cancer UK’s TRANSFORM trial, announced on International Men’s Day, which aims to address some of the inequalities that exist in prostate cancer diagnosis today, and aims to save thousands of men each year.

With this new taskforce, and these ongoing innovations and initiatives, I can assure the House we are taking every step in our mission to improve cancer outcomes.