EARLIER diagnosis, speedier treatment, and reducing the gap between the most and least deprived areas, in terms of the toll taken by cancer, are key to the success of a plan to tackle the disease in Wales.

Just five months after its launch, the Wales Cancer Delivery Plan is the subject of an annual report that lays down a range of cancer figures against which that success will be measured, up to 2016.

While the number of people with cancer is increasing, the annual number of deaths from the disease is falling, by on average 1 per cent a year.

But survival rates and death rates can vary widely, with more deprived areas taking the heaviest hit, and the Wales plan sets the ambitious aim of narrowing that gap.

By 2016, ‘success’ would be seen as cutting the death rate from the current 114 per 100,000 population aged under 75, down to almost 100 per 100,000.

One and five-year survival rates are generally improving in Wales, which in turn is a measure of the effectiveness of treatment and how early cancer is detected.

If the current rate of improvement continues, then the one-year survival rate will be up toward 80 per cent of patients by 2016, and the five-year survival up toward 60 per cent, each around 10 per cent higher than at present.

Wales has two key measures for cancer treatment – that 98 per cent of patients referred to hospital for reasons other than suspected cancer begin their treatment within 31 days, and that 95 per cent of patients referred with suspected cancer begin treatment inside 62 days.

The former target is met regularly, but the latter has not been met on an all-Wales basis for three years.

In Gwent, Aneurin Bevan Health Board consistently boasts the best performance against the 62-day target, with 96.8 per cent of patients beginning treatment inside that timescale during April- June, more than 7 per cent ahead of the next best.

Launching the annual report at St Woolos Hospital in Newport, Health Minister Lesley Griffiths said these inequalities in performance must be improved upward.