Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a £200m-a-year fund for life-enhancing cancer drugs due to close next year is now to continue until 2016.

The Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) was set up in 2011 to help patients in England access certain drugs before they get approval for widespread NHS use and the government has pledged a further £400m to keep it running.

Head of policy at Cancer Research, Sara Osborne, praised the valuable role the fund would play in battling the disease and highlighted the tens of thousands of people who received treatment because of it.

She said: "There's about 30 drugs that are available on the Cancer Drugs Fund, and over the last three years about 34,000 patients have had treatment that they would not have otherwise had, had the fund not existed."

The aim of the CDF was to make it easier for medics to prescribe treatments even if they have not yet been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

'Saved people's lives'
The scheme was set to run until 2014 and campaigners raised concerns about where patients would turn for help when the funding ceased.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the CDF had been a "massive success" and added that should he be re-elected he would recommend that it be continued beyond 2016 saying that "people have lived longer and in some cases it has saved people's lives".

The Rarer Cancers Foundation estimates that 16,500 extra patients will benefit each year as a result of the extension and chief executive Andrew Wilson said: "This is a compassionate, common sense announcement which will be warmly welcomed by many thousands of cancer patients."

Alongside plans to extend the fund, Mr Cameron also announced that Genomics England - a government-owned organisation tasked with mapping the DNA of 100,000 patients with cancer and rare diseases - will begin a partnership with Cancer Research UK.