Patients with suspected cancer could be referred for tests without the need to see a specialist first, the Health Secretary will announce this week.
Andrew Lansley will tell delegates at a cancer conference on Tuesday that greater efforts need to be made to speed up early diagnosis of cancer.
At the moment, some GPs have access to tests in primary care, including chest X-rays.
But other scans have to be ordered by a specialist in hospital – meaning the patient gets referred there first by their GP.
Under the new plans, GPs will be able to order tests themselves, which might include ultrasounds for ovarian cancer, MRI scans for brain tumours and colonoscopies for bowel cancer.
Doctors will still have the option to send patients through the rapid referral system to see a specialist within two weeks.
Some £25 million has been earmarked from the NHS budget to support the move through 2011/12, which will fund up to 150,000 extra tests.
Mr Lansley said late diagnosis is the main reason for England’s survival rates from cancer lagging behind other countries.
He said: “Cancer affects us all. Everyone will have a story of someone they love battling the disease. In those instances we need to know that the NHS will be there for us. Our ambition is simple, to deliver survival rates among the best in the world.
“Earlier diagnosis is key to this which is why we will be prioritising this area in the forthcoming Operating Framework. To achieve our aim we must place faith in those on the frontline, not micro-manage from Whitehall. These plans will provide clinicians with access to the resources they need to deliver the outcomes patients and families deserve.”