The Covid pandemic has made the outlook worse for people with the least survivable cancers, such as pancreatic, stomach and brain cancer, campaigners have said.
A quarter of cancers in the UK have an average five-year survival rate of just 16% and are often diagnosed late in emergency departments.
The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) has launched its first awareness day to ask for greater focus on early diagnosis and more research, as well as a Government commitment to increase survival rates for less survivable cancers to 28% by 2029.
It said data shows that around 3% of breast and 8% of prostate cancers are diagnosed in an emergency, but this jumps to 53% for pancreatic or central nervous system cancers including brain, 45% for liver, 35% for lung, 30% for stomach and 21% for oesophageal cancers.
Screening programmes for these less survivable cancers do not exist and many people are unaware of the symptoms.
LSCT chairwoman Anna Jewell said: “We know that delays in diagnosis lead to much poorer outcomes for patients with these rapidly-advancing cancers.
“We also know the trauma associated with receiving a diagnosis in an emergency setting for both patients and families.
“These cancers are currently difficult or impossible to treat at later stages and the time from diagnosis to death is often brutally short compared to more survivable cancers.
“The situation is critical and has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The taskforce is calling for a significant increase in research funding as well as a commitment to increasing resources for early diagnosis for less survivable cancers so we can close the deadly cancer gap.”
Andrew Millar, consultant gastroenterologist and hepatologist at the North Middlesex University Hospital, said: “Late presentation is a key reason that some cancers are hard to treat.
“Advanced disease means there are fewer options for treatment and often results in rapid deterioration, leaving families and friends bewildered and shocked.
“Early diagnosis is crucial if we are going to tackle this problem and fight the stark inequalities in the survival rates of different cancers.”
Dr David Jenkinson, chief scientific officer at the Brain Tumour Charity, said: “Through sustained investment in research and NHS care, we have seen great progress in early diagnosis and survival for many other health conditions in the last two decades, but this progress has unfortunately not yet been forthcoming for less survivable cancers and we need to act now.”
An NHS spokeswoman said: “The NHS is committed to ensuring that more cancers are detected at an earlier stage when they are easier to treat and there are already a range of innovations in place to help with this ambition, including a revolutionary new blood test to detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms even appear.
“NHS Help Us Help You campaigns have increased awareness of lesser-known symptoms and, since the summer, GPs have been referring more people for cancer checks than ever before – so if you’re experiencing any worrying symptoms, please come forward and get checked.”