A record 2.2 million people were checked for cancer by the NHS in England last year, with the health service crediting increased awareness to celebrities such as Stephen Fry.
The figure – up from 1.9 million in 2017 – amounts to almost 6,000 patients a day being screened following urgent referrals from GPs.
Record numbers of people were also treated for cancer last year, with 308,058 receiving a first treatment in 2018, almost 13,000 more than in 2017 and the first time the number has topped 300,000, NHS England said.
The health service said the rise is due to new guidance introduced for GPs in 2015, which lowered the threshold for cancer referrals, while awareness has been raised by celebrities such as Fry, 61, former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull, 63, and journalist Jeremy Bowen, 59.
All three have shared their stories after being diagnosed with cancer, leading to a significant increase in people checking for symptoms, NHS England said.
NHS England’s national director for cancer, Cally Palmer, said: “Thanks to a greater awareness of symptoms, more people than ever before are coming forward to get checked for cancer, with over two million in just one year and record numbers of people receiving treatment.
“We want to see even more people seeking help when something is not right – catching cancer earlier when it can be treated best is crucial to providing peace of mind for patients and their families and saving more lives.”
The NHS long-term plan includes the introduction of a 28-day diagnosis standard which will aim to see patients checked and given their results within four weeks.
However, last month NHS England data showed almost a quarter of cancer patients do not start treatment on time.
Hospitals are meant to start cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral, with the target stating that 85% of patients should start treatment within this time frame.
But figures for January showed the worst performance on record, with just 76.2% of cancer patients treated within the target.