Earlier diagnosis would benefit the survival chances of 52,000 patients each year and could save the NHS nearly £210m in reduced treatment costs, according to an analysis from Cancer Research UK.
The report revealed large variations in early diagnosis rates between areas, with a fourfold difference in lung cancer and fivefold difference in ovarian cancer.
Nationally, 54% of cancers are diagnosed early in their progression, at stages 1 and 2, with a further 46% diagnosed at stage 3 or above.
This is despite figures released in August showing survival rates for five common cancers in England had increased 'radically' over recent years.
The report highlighted that treating late-stage colon, rectal, lung and ovarian cancers incurs two-and-a-half times the cost of early-stage care. Treatment costs for the four cancers could increase by £165m over the next 10 years as the population ages, it warned.
Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said: 'It’s vital that people are aware of their body and if they notice anything unusual for them they should visit their GP. And GPs play a critical role, of course, knowing when symptoms need to be investigated and referring patients promptly for tests.'
Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: 'This report shows yet again why we must do more to ensure patients begin treatment as early as possible, so that we improve cancer survival in this country. It provides a compelling case for substantial investment in efforts to achieve earlier diagnosis. Not to invest in earlier diagnosis is to fail cancer patients.'
In 2011, the DH committed to improve cancer survival rates in England to save an extra 5,000 lives by 2014/15, as part of a strategy that aimed to increase GP direct access to diagnostic scans.