Most suspected cancers referred after first GP visit

  • Posted

Posted 08/02/2013

It has been reported that more than 80% of patients with suspected cancer in England are referred by their GPs after just one or two consultations. A study of 13,000 cancer patients showed that more than half were referred to a specialist after the first trip to the doctor but harder to spot cancers such as lung cancer took longer to identify.

Cancer Research UK welcomed the figures but said there was more work to be done on early diagnosis. Much work has already been done on improving this in the past decade including awareness campaigns and NICE Guidelines on the symptoms for suspected cancer and targets to fast track referrals.

Late diagnosis and treatment has been highlighted as one of the reasons behind the poor cancer survival rates in the UK compared with other counties. It has been shown that there is still work to be done on some cancers that are harder to spot.  A third of lung and stomach cancer patients needed three or more consultations before they were referred to a specialist.  It is now understood that there are typical symptoms of some cancers like breast and melanoma and this helps the doctor to spot them quickly. Other cancers have less typical symptoms making them more difficult to recognise straight away.

The study’s co-author, Dr Lyratzopoulos from the Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research, said: “Not suspecting cancer early enough can be stressful for patients and their relatives so understanding the symptoms of these cancers better is where we need to be making greater research efforts to help spot the disease earlier”.

Professor Ruben, a Clinical Lead for Cancer at the Royal College of GPs and the other co-author of this study, said the results showed that patients are being referred much more quickly but there was a significant minority who have a few trips to their GP before suspicion was raised. 

Professor Ruben went on to say that the results in the British Journal of Cancer showed GPs now need to think about smarter ways of picking up hard to spot cancer sooner. Earlier diagnostic tests was one way but the Department of Health is also trialling decision making tools to help GPs spot cancer when patients presented with multiple symptoms.

Sara Hiom, the Early Diagnosis Director at Cancer Research UK, said the findings were encouraging but there was room for improvement. She added that it was important that patients acted on any persistent health changes that concerned them and had the confidence to go back to their GP if problems did not clear up.

Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashtons Legal, comments that these statistics are welcome. “Clearly there has been a huge campaign to raise awareness of the early signs of certain cancers and this has had a knock on effect with patients being referred much earlier than before.  However there is still room for improvement.”

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