A new cancer strategy will embed the idea of one-stop rapid diagnosis centres in the NHS, the Prime Minister announced.
Speaking to the Conservative party conference, Mrs May outlined plans for new targets to improve cancer care.
The age of screening for bowel cancer will be lowered to 50 – and this will lead to 75% of cancers being detected in their early stages by 2028, she said. The current rate is 50%.
The government has previously announced plans for one-stop cancer diagnosis centres – and sources said there would be 20 of these throughout England.
Mrs May told of her personal experience of cancer.
She said: “Cancer can strike any of us at any time. A few years ago my goddaughter was diagnosed with cancer. She underwent treatment and it seemed to be working, but then the cancer came back.
“Last summer, she sent me a text to tell me she was hoping to see another Christmas, but she didn't make it.”
The Royal College of Radiologists said news of a new Cancer Strategy was “a surprise.”
In a statement, President Dr Nicola Strickland welcomed Mrs May’s commitment to improving cancer diagnosis.
She said the 2015 plan had made “slow progress in improving outcomes for patients because of lack of investment in new staff and in vital imaging and radiotherapy equipment.”
She added: “Without doubt the NHS needs better diagnostic equipment – surveys have shown one-in-ten computed tomography scanners and nearly a third of magnetic resonance scanners in UK hospitals are technically obsolete.
“The promise of widespread Rapid Diagnostic Centres is fantastic in theory – but it needs to be substantiated and thought through before it can become reality.”
She said rapid diagnosis centres had been hugely successful in Denmark – but would require the availability of adequate radiology staff.
Cancer Research UK called for a “long-term workforce plan” and investment to support the announcement.
Emma Greenwood, from the charity, said: “The scale of the challenge is substantial and must now be reflected in Government action.
“Significant investment in NHS staff who diagnose and treat cancer patients will be fundamental, as will continued research into new diagnostic tests.”
Meanwhile Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the conference the UK should be sequencing a million genomes a year.
Mr Hancock announced plans to step up the UK’s existing 100,000 Genomes Project.
Under his plans, whole genome sequencing will be available to all seriously ill paediatric patients from next year – together with adults with some rare diseases and hard to treat cancers.
Mr Hancock claimed the UK was capable of sequencing five million genomes over five years.
The NHS and the UK Biobank would contribute a million of these, he said.
He said: “I’m incredibly excited about the potential for this type of technology to improve the diagnosis and treatment for patients to help people live longer, healthier lives – a vital part of our long-term plan for the NHS.
“Today’s commitments form part of our bold aspiration to sequence 5 million genomes in the UK, using ground-breaking technology to do this within an unprecedented 5-year period.”
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