MSD highlights progress on addressing health inequalities in cancer in England 

May 2024

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How can we learn from the work of Cancer Alliances in reducing health inequalities at a local level?

MSD in the UK have published the report, Driving health equity in cancer: Practical examples from Cancer Alliances, demonstrating the progress Cancer Alliances in England are making towards addressing health inequalities.

The publication, Driving health equity in cancer: Practical examples from Cancer Alliances, brings together a collection of case studies of local projects within Cancer Alliances across the country that aim to overcome the health inequalities in cancer care and outcomes in their area. It highlights practical steps that can be taken, such as working with organisations in the local community, to reach underserved or hard-to-reach populations – who are often more at risk of certain cancer types but don’t readily engage with the health system.

Bringing together practical examples in this way is intended to inspire cancer services and local communities to think differently about the opportunities available to support populations impacted by health inequalities by showcasing steps that can be taken to support them and extend and improve their lives.

The project was funded and led by MSD in the UK, working with Cancer Alliances to bring together case studies of the crucial work they have been undertaking over the course of many years.

We are grateful to NHS England National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme Directors and to Macmillan Cancer Support for their endorsement for this project – providing feedback and forewords for the publication:

Professor Peter Johnson, National Clinical Director for Cancer, and Professor Bola Owolabi, Director of the National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme, said:

“The case studies in this report showcase the innovative and responsive ways in which we hoped that Cancer Alliances and other organisations would implement the Core20PLUS5 programme – in their local communities, shaping their work around the community’s specific needs. We have enjoyed hearing about these case studies throughout the project and hope they inspire others, as they have inspired us, to continue our life-saving and important work in addressing health inequalities in cancer across England.”

Claire Taylor MBE, Chief Nursing Officer, and Professor Richard Simcock, Chief Medical Officer, at Macmillan Cancer Support, said:

“Eliminating health inequalities is becoming an increasing priority in the UK as we continue to see widening variation in cancer outcomes. This report offers positive and practical ways to improve health equity with useful insights from others’ key learnings and also further resources you may wish to access.” 

Health inequalities have a direct impact on the risk of getting cancer, the speed with which someone is diagnosed, and their likelihood of surviving – MSD’s October 2022 report, Levelling up: what does it mean for the less survivable cancers in England?, analysed national data from some of the least survivable cancers and found that only 49% of people living in the most deprived quintile are diagnosed with cancer at an early stage (stage 1 or 2), compared to 58% of people from the least deprived quintile.1

It is vital that the Government and NHS continue to focus on tackling inequalities to achieve the early diagnosis and survival ambitions set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.2

Benson Fayehun, MSD UK Oncology Business Unit Head

“Addressing health inequalities is deeply personal to me and is one of the biggest barriers we face to improving the nation’s health. National commitments and leadership help set the tone and direction – but it is through learning from, and innovating with, communities on the ground that we see the action needed to bring about positive change and improve people’s lives.

We are delighted to have been able to bring together some of the fantastic and inspiring work that Cancer Alliances have undertaken in partnership with local charities and community organisations to overcome cultural, physical or logistical barriers to equal healthcare. By sharing these positive examples we hope to inspire others within the health system, local authorities, charities and community groups to think differently about their roles in addressing health inequalities and the opportunities that there are to support their local populations.”

Examples of the fantastic projects Cancer Alliances have been delivering, include:

  • The Alright Me Liver? campaign in Somerset, Wiltshire, Avon & Gloucestershire to improve early detection of liver cancer – one of the less survivable cancers – in deprived communities, who have an increased risk of death from liver cancer.3
  • This Van Can is a mobile health clinic targeting groups at higher risk of prostate cancer in Greater Manchester.
  • You Need to Know campaign in Northeast London to tackle low awareness of womb cancer, where incidence and mortality rates are higher in people of non-white ethnicities and from more deprived communities.4,5
  • Efforts in Southeast London to ensure patients with learning difficulties receive optimal care

[1] MSD, Levelling up: what does it mean for the less survivable cancers in England?, September 2022, job number: GB-NON-06239. Available:

[2] NHS England (2019). NHS long term plan: chapter three: cancer. Available:,least%20five%20years%20after%20diagnosis. Accessed April 2024

[3] Mayor of Bristol (2023). Alright my liver? Liver cancer awareness month. Available: Accessed JApril 2024.

[4] Cancer Research UK, Uterine cancer statistics. Available: Accessed April 2024.

[5] Cancer Research UK, Uterine cancer statistics,. Available: Accessed April 2024

GB-NON-09360 | May 2024