Friday 29th November 2019

FAO: health and policy leads of political parties

With the upcoming General Election on Thursday 12 December, Teenage Cancer Trust are calling on all political parties to prioritise young people with cancer. The next government has the remarkable opportunity to be the game-changing government that ends inequalities for young people with cancer.

Teenage Cancer Trust is the only UK charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for 13 – 24 year olds with cancer. We help the seven young people who are diagnosed with cancer every day, supporting them before, during and after treatment. We fund specialist units in NHS hospitals and provide dedicated staff, bringing young people together so they can be treated by experts in teenage cancer in the best and most appropriate spaces for them. After cancer treatment, we’re there to help young people to adjust to their ‘new normal’ by providing the tools they need to get back on track, and peer support through an age-appropriate recovery programme.

We’ve made huge progress over the last 30 years, providing specialist teenage and young adult cancer care, however young people with cancer still face major inequalities when compared with children or older adults. These inequalities can be seen throughout a young person’s cancer experience, survival and recovery. We need your help to end cancer inequalities for young people.

The next Government could make a big difference to young people’s experience of cancer. It currently takes young people with cancer more appointments to get a referral to see a specialist than it does for most other age groups. The 2018 National Cancer Patient Experience Survey showed 16-24 year olds report the highest percentages compared to all other age group for ‘I saw my GP 3 or 4 times’, ‘I saw my GP 5 or more times’, and ‘None- I went straight to hospital’.  Young people often experience delays to diagnosis, and this can be linked to poorer outcomes.

Once diagnosed not all young people with cancer have access to specialist services, such as those provided by Teenage Cancer Trust. We know how crucial age-appropriate care is to improve a young person’s experience, and this must be available to all teenagers and young adults with cancer as part of their treatment package. It is vital that the next Government implements all commitments made in the NHS long term plan and ensures that healthcare inequality is overcome for young people with cancer.

Young people with cancer should be able to access the best treatments available, but this is not always the case. Teenagers and young adults with cancer are significantly underrepresented in cancer research, with just 14-30% of 15-24 year olds accessing clinical trials, compared with 50-70% of children. Young people with cancer also have poorer survival rates for the same types of cancers as children. We need the next government to prioritise ending inequalities in treatment of young people with cancer including participation in clinical trials.

It was encouraging to see the HPV vaccination being rolled out to boys aged 11-13 this year, in line with the girls’ vaccination. However, this opportunity has not been extended to older boys, meaning that unlike girls and the younger boys, males older than 13 this year will not have the chance to have the vaccination for free. There are 13 HPV types that can be linked to cancer, including cervical, anal, penile and head and neck cancers. Offering the vaccination to more males could contribute to reducing the number of people diagnosed with these cancers in future. We need a commitment from the next government to make the HPV vaccine available for free on the NHS to anyone who requests it, up to the age of 25.

We know that the impact of cancer can continue even after treatment is finished. That is why post-treatment support is just as important as the clinical treatment. Every teenager and young adult with cancer is meant to have access to expert psychological support during treatment and into survivorship. However, when surveyed, only 61% of young people said they had access to a psychologist or counsellor throughout their treatment for cancer. This number fell to 44% after their treatment had finished. The next Government must ensure that psychological support and assessment for young people with cancer during and after treatment is improved.

Regardless of the general election results this December, young people with cancer must be a priority for government going forward. We look forward to working closely with the next administration to ensure the inequalities that young people with cancer can be overcome.

Yours sincerely,

Kate Collins, Chief Executive of Teenage Cancer Trust