Tens of thousands of cancer sufferers could be denied life-extending drugs unless the government finds a way to continue funding treatment for patients, a charity has warned.

More than 18,000 patients have so far benefited from the Cancer Drugs Fund but when the scheme stops in 2014 many could miss out on essential new treatments, according to the Rarer Cancers Foundation (RCF).

Ministers have allocated £650 million to be spent on treatments which are not yet available on the NHS in England.

The fund is to continue until the end of March 2014, but the RCF has raised concerns about the availability of the drugs after this period.

“Dealing with advanced cancer is challenging enough for patients and their families without having to fight for life-extending treatment,” said RCF chief executive Andrew Wilson.

“The NHS should be there when you need it the most and, thanks to the Cancer Drugs Fund, it has been for thousands of patients.

“However, the impact of cancer will not stop in 2014. It is concerning that no arrangements are in place to ensure that patients continue to get access to these drugs.

“Unless the Government and the pharmaceutical industry address this urgently, nearly 17,000 patients a year will be denied access to life-extending treatments.”

More than 10,000 patients benefited from the fund during its first year, with 94 different drugs being funded through the initiative.

The RCF has predicted that if the fund was in place between 2015 and 2020, it could benefit 80,000 more patients.

Care services minister Paul Burstow said: “Cancer patients, no matter where they live, should have access to the drugs their doctors recommend, which is why we introduced the Cancer Drugs Fund.

“We can see that the Cancer Drugs Fund is making a difference to the lives of thousands of people with cancer. The amount of funding we have made available has been more than sufficient to provide clinicians with the freedom to provide the cancer drugs they believe will benefit their patients.”

Dr Tom Powles, consultant oncologist at Barts Health Trust, added: “The Cancer Drugs Fund has proved to be an efficient way for patients to get access to effective cancer drugs which would otherwise be unavailable to them. A number of my patients have directly benefited from this fund.”