Cancer is a priority in Tower Hamlets as the largest cause of premature death in the borough, with death rates driven by high incidence of lung cancer, and late diagnosis and poor survival rates of many cancers including breast, bowel and prostate. At least 40% of cancers could be prevented by making simple behaviour changes.

Around 650 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year in Tower Hamlets residents. Of these, about 100 are lung cancer, 70 are breast cancer, 60 are bowel cancer and 40 are prostate cancer.

Late diagnosis of cancer is a particular problem in Tower Hamlets; the earlier cancer is detected, the more likely it is to be successfully treated.

The 'small c' campaign aimed to improve the chances of survival from cancer in east London. A recent evaluation of the campaign showed how local community organisations involved helped to raise residents’ awareness of cancer symptoms, leading to more people being diagnosed early and more people receiving life-saving treatment.

The campaign began in 2010 as a partnership of the health services across Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Newham, City and Hackney and Barts Health NHS Trust, and was designed to help people recognise symptoms when cancer is still small and more vulnerable to treatment, because ‘spotting cancer early saves lives’.

View the full evaluation here.

Work we are doing locally to tackle this issue

In Tower Hamlets we are aiming to reduce inequalities in cancer mortality and survival through:

  • supporting people to make simple changes in their behaviour – for example, stopping smoking, healthier eating, being more active and sensible drinking, and by making changes to the physical environment
  • raising public awareness of symptoms and the importance of seeing a doctor without delay
  • promoting the uptake of breast, bowel and cervical screening
  • improving survival by detecting and treating cancer earlier, and preventing recurrence.

The British Journal of Cancer has recently published the results of a study in East London which showed significantly higher uptake of screening when GP practices endorsed bowel screening by letters and telephone calls, compared to control practices in which people received standard invitations from the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme only.

View the full report here.


Breast screening: 020 3465 6631 

Bowel screening: 0800 707 6060

Cervical screening:

Useful external links

The Small C: 

Macmillan Cancer Support: 

Cancer research UK: 

NHS Cancer Screening:

NHS Choices, breast cancer:

NHS Choices, bowel cancer:

NHS Choices, lung cancer: