The Government was warned today its NHS Cancer Plan is in urgent need of reform to cope with the twin demands of an ageing population and expensive new treatments.

A report by the King's Fund think tank - Future Trends and Challenges for Cancer Services - said while the plan had achieved "considerable successes" in improving treatment there were still "gaps".

More than 220,000 people are diagnosed with cancer and about 128,000 die from the disease each year in England.

According to the report, many patients are still not being referred as urgent cases and waiting times for radiotherapy have not been cut.

The existing NHS Cancer Plan was drawn up in 2000 and, since its introduction, screening programmes have resulted in earlier diagnosis, better treatment, and people living longer.

The number of new cases is increasing by 1.4 per cent a year, and the proportion of over 65s in the country will grow from 16 per cent in 2004 to 23 in 2031 - both of which could prove an extra burden to NHS services.

The report stated: "The inevitable effect is that more people will live with cancer in remission and this is bound to increase the demand for resources for cancer."

Dr Rebecca Rosen, a King's Fund senior fellow in health policy, said: "The impact of recent NHS reform is gathering pace and it is essential that future cancer policy anticipates the challenges and opportunities of people living longer, technological changes, and policy shifts throughout the NHS.

The report states the licensing process for new drugs must become faster, improve patients' access to them, and reminds primary care trusts of their obligation to fund drugs that are approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.