Young cancer patient Danielle Hefti yesterday helped The Birmingham Post and Cancer Research UK deliver a wake-up call to the Government.
A total of 250,000 people signed the Cancer 2020 petition, calling for a new Cancer Plan to be drawn up, and Danielle, of Warndon, Worcester, delivered the document to No 10.
The need for a new, updated plan was highlighted in September when the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, Alex Markham, told The Post that one in two people will be fighting the disease by 2030.
Launched in 2000, the first NHS Cancer Plan set targets to improve access to, provision and funding of cancer treatments, services and research. The current plan expires in 2010.
As the petition was handed over yesterday, Prof Markham admitted a Government announcement was expected later this month.
"The discussions I've been having with senior members of the Government and civil servants have encouraged me that there's overwhelming support for this," he said.
"The Government realises that not having an updated plan would be a total recipe for disaster because you can no longer put your head in the sand in a world where next year there will be ten new drugs that can improve cancer survival rates.
"Incidence rate of cancer will reach one in two by 2030, which is why it's essential we plan for these drugs now – not just those that slow down cancer but those which can eliminate it all together.
"I'm confident there will be new treatments that can be applied to several common cancers and have a major impact on them in the near future, and that we will see huge progress across the cancer spectrum."
During Prime Minister's question time on Wednesday, Tony Blair confirmed that Mike Richards, the national cancer director, is actively considering an update to the Cancer Plan.
"We are, I think, six years through the ten year cancer plan," he stated, "and there are another four years to go, and I know that the head of cancer services within the NHS is looking carefully at whether we need to publish an update of that plan."
Prof Markham, who presented a Cancer Champion award to The Post during a reception at the House of Commons, added: "I'd like to thank The Birmingham Post for its support of Cancer 2020, by raising awareness and improving the quality of the public debate on this matter.
"It is only now that decades of research and development
are really starting to pay off as we have a better understanding of cancer and how it works."
Health Minister Rosie Winterton admitted the advent of new drugs like Herceptin mean more investment is needed if patients are to receive them without becoming victims of a 'postcode lottery'.
She said: "We've achieved a lot in providing better cancer services but we still need extra investment to go into new services, new ways of working.
"We are actively reviewing the need for an update to the Cancer Plan. Considerations centre around the change in services, new techniques, treatments and drugs, these are all factors we need to look at."
The Lord Chancellor, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, also backed the call for a new cancer plan. "There's no doubt cancer top of the public's health agenda, and there's been a lot of support this campaign," he said.
"With the ban on smoking in public places to be introduced next year, I would like to see more research into lung cancer, which still represents a death sentence as it has the worst mortality rate than any other cancer.
"I think if there is no new Cancer Plan it will make it harder for research to progress and improvements to be made."
The story so far:
When the first Cancer Plan was published in 2000 it promised progress on cancer prevention, research and services over the next ten years.
Its target was to reduce the number of cancer deaths by 25 per cent by 2010, via improvements in patient care, addressing inequalities in treatment and planning for the future.
At present, none of the United Kingdom's four nations have devised policies to take their cancer strategies beyond 2011.
The NHS Cancer Plan for England runs out in 2010, the Cancer In Scotland strategy expires in 2011, and neither Wales nor Northern Ireland currently have cancer plans.
But as one in two people are set to develop cancer by 2030 and cancer survival rates improve, The Birmingham Post and Cancer Research UK are calling on the Government to commit to a new national strategy to safeguard research and services to, at least until 2020.
Free to start living her life to the full A family sight-seeing trip around London is a treat Danielle Hefti is enjoying for the very first time, since doctors proclaimed she was "cancer free" in June.
The six-year-old is currently in remission from Wilms tumour – a form of kidney cancer – but she has been on an emotional rollercoaster as she battled the disease for more than a year.
After staring in wonder at sharks and stingrays at London Aquarium, visiting Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, Danielle had one more sight to see –10 Downing Street.
And when the family arrived at the Prime Minister's front door, she asked "Who lives here?" Brave Danielle, who received one of Cancer Research UK's Little Star awards yesterday, started to suffer severe stomach pains in February 2005, but the family's local GP in Warndon, Worcester, did not believe it was anything serious.
A few weeks later, after her belly swelled up twice its size, her parents – Louise Hefti and partner Richard Knight – rushed her to Worcester Royal Hospital, where an A&E consultant instantly recognised her condition.
Ms Hefti, a sales assistant, said: "From there she was taken straight to Birmingham Children's Hospital, where she was treated brilliantly and within days she had her right kidney removed, because the tumour was so big.
"Danielle is quite feisty, I think that's how she's got through this because she's a real fighter, always in high spirits despite going back and forth from Worcester to Birmingham.
"The nurses there could not believe how active she was, but there were times when it all got to her, like losing her hair because she's a real girlie girl, so that was hard for her.
"Last year I was adamant she'd be at home for Christmas, I didn't want her to spend it in a hospital bed, but now she's been told she's 'cancer free' we're all looking forward to a very special family Christmas."
Mr Knight, a 26-year-old barman, admitted the dark months of Danielle's battle were difficult for him too.
"I didn't deal with it, I didn't handle it very well at all, it was just such a big shock," he said. "But Danielle has reacted brilliantly, I can't believe how brave she's been."