Cancer is a momentous issue globally, affecting more than 14 million lives each year and accounting for approximately 15 per cent of all deaths . Here in the UK, somebody dies from cancer every four minutes .
As people age, their risk of living with multiple healthcare conditions also increases — half of all cancer cases in the UK each year are diagnosed in people aged 70 or over . This makes the management of the elderly patient population an important consideration within the design of cancer services.
We are fortunate to have support in place to help us fight this disease through routine NHS screening, healthy living support and access to treatments. However, a report by Cancer Research UK  highlighted major gaps in our diagnostics services, including pathology, which are creating bottlenecks and causing ‘many thousands of patients to be in limbo’.
Diagnostic imaging and pathology play a critical role in the detection and diagnosis of cancer, as well as a wide variety of other diseases. But with cancer cases on the rise, the demand for these services has become overwhelming: more than 1.5 million urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer were made in 2015, an increase of 50 per cent in the past four years . Coupled with stretched resources and a declining workforce, the UK continues to lag behind other Western European countries in regard to cancer diagnosis times and survival rates. In fact, when comparing the UK five-year survival rates for common cancers against the European mean, the UK lags behind in all cancers except for melanoma skin cancer .
The Cancer Strategy for England outlines the lack of an early, definitive diagnosis as the NHS’s key challenge in improving cancer outcomes . Not only will earlier diagnosis improve patient outcomes, it will also provide significant cost savings compared with the treatment of advanced cases . For example, stage 1 treatment for colon cancer costs £3,373, compared with a cost of £12,519 for stage 4 treatment.
These challenges signify a clear need for change in the current suspected cancer pathway. Technology is fundamental in facilitating these changes, helping to revolutionise this pathway by shortening referral times, improving diagnosis capacity and providing cost-effective therapy and treatment options. By partnering with industry, the collective potential of data, technology and people can be used by the NHS to improve productivity and organise care seamlessly.
Philips is a global leader in providing technology solutions to facilitate accurate diagnosis and select appropriate treatment options. We have almost 100 years experience, and an 11,500 strong research and development team that continually innovates to create digital technologies to help overcome healthcare challenges. Now, as the cancer epidemic becomes even more of a national priority, we are focussing our attention on diagnostic solutions to improve cancer outcomes in the UK.
We are, for example, working with several public and private partners to develop Multidisciplinary Community Diagnostic Centres (MCDCs). Despite the current NICE guidelines stating that a patient with an urgent cancer referral should be seen within two weeks, there are large inconsistencies in referral waiting times across Trusts. Introducing more capacity into the health system, these centres will give GPs and patients easy access to diagnostic services within the community setting, rather than channelling them into the already stretched hospital environment. Their aim will be to help the NHS ensure cancer is either diagnosed or excluded within 28 days of GP referral. This supports what the NHS started to do some 20 years ago by bringing healthcare into the community setting. Working with clinical providers to bridge the gap in overcoming resource and capacity restraints, Philips will, in the MCDCs, draw on its years of experience to deliver imaging, genomics and informatics solutions across the diagnostic spectrum. Improving the quality of care, it is estimated each centre will be able to serve a population of one million. This is in line with the Cancer Strategy for England and the Independent Cancer Task Force Strategy.
For patients, this will enable earlier diagnosis, which in turn leads to earlier treatment and better survival rates. The management of their experience will also be improved by giving them the option to have their GP guide them through the process, rather than acute care.
The role of digital pathology
With more than 100 types of cancers, the management of this disease is extremely complex. So it is not surprising that digital technologies are increasingly being used to support clinicians. Digitisation of the tissue slide that a pathologist would normally view using a microscope offers enormous opportunities. Technology such as Philips IntelliSite means intelligent algorithms can be applied to a digital image to provide new data that pathologists have simply never had before. This helps to broaden and deepen their understanding of cancer, and provides valuable insight into how we might stem the tide of cancer in the future.
When a rich data pool from an entire pathology department or a network of pathologists is available, clinicians can compare patients with similar conditions. This allows them to detect early signs of health deterioration, helping them to determine how effective specific therapies and treatments will be, and if interventions are needed. Leveraging richer data also provides more information about specific types of cancers, which can then be added to the overall available body of knowledge for caregivers and clinicians around the world.
At Philips, we want to future-proof cancer diagnosis. Our solutions will analyse medical data and turn it into actionable insights that enable our health system to deliver personalised care. By collaborating with clinical partners we can also find smarter ways to get diagnosis and treatment right the first time, every time. We firmly believe that through innovation, digitalisation and collaboration, we can win the fight against cancer.
For information on Philips and its solutions, visit: www.philips.co.uk/healthcare/nobounds.
Neil Mesher is CEO of Philips UK and Ireland.
 World Health Organisation 2017. Cancer Factsheet. Available from: www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs297/en/ (Accessed October 2017)
 Cancer Research UK. Cancer Statistics for the UK. Available from:
www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics-for-the-uk (Accessed October 2017)
 Cancer Research UK, Age and Cancer www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/age-and-cancer (Accessed October 2017)
 ‘Testing Times to Come? An Evaluation of Pathology Capacity Across the UK’, Cancer Research UK, November 2016. Available from: www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/testing_times_to_come_nov_16_cruk.pdf (Accessed October 2017)
 Achieving World Class Cancer Outcomes: Taking the strategy forward, May 2016, www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/cancer-strategy.pdf and www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/achieving_world-class_cancer_outcomes_-_a_strategy_for_england_2015-2020.pdf
 Saving lives averting costs — report prepared for Cancer Research UK www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/saving_lives_averting_costs.pdf