Thousands of lives could be saved every year under government plans to tackle cancer, the Department of Health has said.

Amid growing dissent over public health reforms, David Cameron has set out a series of measures designed to raise UK survival rates to among the best in the world.

These include increasing detection with new bowel cancer screening technology - potentially saving 3,000 lives a year - and providing new cancer therapies which could benefit 2,000 patients this year alone, the Department of Health said.

The announcement comes as the government seeks to reassure voters over its planned overhaul of the health service.

Mr Cameron insisted he was committed to “improving” the health service despite the state of Britain’s finances.

“Today we are announcing that actually we are going to be spending another £164m on cancer prevention and really updating and improving our screening provision, particularly in bowel cancer which can save 3,000 lives a year,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“It is very important as we take the country through difficult decisions to say there are things that are so important to families, like my family, like the thousands of families watching this programme, that (we will improve them).”

He said he was committed to bringing UK cancer survival rates up to those in the best-performing European countries - potentially saving 5,000-10,000 lives a year.

“I absolutely want to close that gap and the announcement today is part of that,” he said.

Other measures set out include boosting the number of specialists involved in cancer services to 1,200 by 2012 and introducing better treatment by expanding radiotherapy capacity.

The government has also pledged to invest £43m more over the spending review period so all high-priority patients get access to proton beam therapy - an advanced form of radiotherapy which targets cancers with minimal damage to healthy tissue.

This could benefit 400 patients per year by the end of the period, it said.

The investment comes on top of another £60m which would be channelled into bowel cancer screening during the next four years, and run alongside a £10.75 million signs and symptoms campaign.

According to government estimates, the drive to raise awareness about breast, lung and bowel cancers could mean up to 500 people being diagnosed earlier, increasing the chances of successful treatment.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “I want the NHS to deliver cancer survival rates comparable to the best in the world.

“We’re going to introduce an exciting new screening test for bowel cancer which could save up to 3,000 lives a year.

“We have secured the funding for a four-year roll-out and will, subject to the green light from the UK National Screening Committee, begin pilots from spring next year.”