Up to a third of the 14,500 cancer patients treated in hospital each day would in future be cared for at home under a five-year plan to improve NHS cancer services.

The switch away from hospital treatment was essential if the NHS was to afford the rising costs of cancer care, said Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary.

Prevention, earlier diagnosis and treatment, and improving the experience of those living with cancer, are the main thrusts of the NHS Cancer Reform Strategy, which is backed by an investment of £370m.

Other measures include attempts to help people give up smoking, with consultations planned on banning cigarette-vending machines.

As part of moves to cut skin cancer rates, the use of sunbeds by under-18s will also be reviewed.

A recent study showed Britain lagging behind the rest of Europe in cancer survival rates. In the UK, the five-year survival rate was about 42 per cent for men and 52 per cent for women, compared with an EU average of about 45 and 55, respectively. The new strategy will see breast screening extended to women aged 47 to 73, from the current range of 50 to 70. Bowel cancer screening will be extended to all men and women aged 70 to 75, and attempts will be made to speed up the licensing of new cancer drugs.

Opposition parties attacked the Government's record, saying it had failed to make NHS cancer care the best in the world despite huge investment. Cancer programmes cost £4.35bn a year and are growing by £70m a year. New drugs cost another £70m a year.

But Mr Johnson said: "Fewer patients need to stay in hospital for long periods. They can be treated as day cases or in the community. It is better for their health but it also happens to be more cost-effective."