Detecting cancers early is essential to saving lives and reducing the need for invasive treatments. So, in 2019, the NHS Long Term Plan set a national target for increasing the proportion of cancers diagnosed at an early stage.

There is room for improvement in current performance. In 2018, 55% of cancers were diagnosed in ‘early’ stages; the target is to diagnose 75% by 2028.

But how?

For services trying to improve performance, where should they start? Which cancers pose the greatest risk if not discovered early? Which population groups are most at risk? What service changes are likely to be effective in improving early diagnosis?

The Black Country and West Birmingham ‘Healthier Futures’ Academy commissioned us to look at these questions. We didn’t find any sliver bullets in the literature, but the evidence did illuminate several ways forward that can be explored and developed.

These findings are likely to be of use to other areas. So, as part of our commitment to share our work for public benefit, it is presented here.

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