The Doc, who is a specialist in Primary Care and the early diagnosis of cancer, has been telling me this for years: in the UK we have the worst cancer survival rates in Wester Europe due to late diagnosis of cancers that could be treatable if picked up earlier.
So now we have some research which is publicising this. I do hope encourages people to go and see their GP and insist that they are taken seriously if they feel unwell; but more importantly it is up to us to recognise what the potential symptoms are. When my leg got worse, despite a confident diagnosis and lots of physio, I knew it wasn’t right, and went straight back. ‘How could it be a hematoma? I would know if I had pulled a calf muscle,’ I kept telling them. Listen to your body! And I am living proof that doing that works.
One in four British cancer patients are unlikely to live longer than six months after diagnosis because they – and GPs – are missing signs of the disease, new figures show.
Nearly 90,000 people do not know they have got cancer until they arrive at Accident and Emergency wards, by which time only 36 per cent will live longer than a year.
Figures for hosptials in London show that one in four patients who are diagnosed with cancer in casualty wards will be dead within two months. And the statistics are likely to be similar across the country, health experts have warned.
Britain has the worst cancer surival rate in Western Europe. In June the health watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) set out new guidance for doctors to help doctors spot the signs of 37 difference cancers and make urgent referrals if cancer is at all suspected.
“These shocking figures hammer home what we already know to be true: early diagnosis can make a huge difference in your chances of surviving cancer,” said lead author Professor Kathy Pritchard-Jones.
“Around a quarter of all cancer cases are being diagnosed following presentation in A&E and the vast majority of these are already at a late stage, when treatment options are limited and survival is poorer.
“And many of the patients diagnosed through A&E have other health conditions that may complicate their treatment.
“We need to find ways to diagnose patients earlier, and through managed pathways. This is crucial to improving the UK’s cancer survival to the standard of comparable countries.”
Researchers based at London Cancer measured the survival of nearly 1,000 patients diagnosed following emergency presentation at 12 A&E departments across north east and central London and west Essex during 2013.
They found that average survival was less than six months, with only 36 per cent of patients surviving beyond one year.
Half of all patients under the age of 65 had died by 14 months from diagnosis, with 55 per cent surviving beyond one year.
For 65 – 75 year olds, half had died by five months and only 25 per cent made it past one year. And, for patients aged over 75, half had died after just three months, with only a quarter surviving past one year.
As well as delays with GP diagnosis, many people are still unaware of cancer signs and symptoms and do not take their concerns to their doctor until it is too late. There can also be delays in getting an appointment at GPs surgeries or hospitals for crucial tests.
Cancer Research UK said too many people were still diagnosed late at emergency departments.
“That must change if we’re serious about having the best cancer survival in the world,” said Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive.
“These figures show much more needs to be done to give patients the best chance of surviving their disease, regardless of their age or where they live.”
Around 330,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year, but the prognosis is good for many cancers now if caught early enough. For example if breast cancer is caught in its earliest stage 90 per cent of women will survive for at least five years. But that number falls to just 15 per cent for women diagnosed with advanced disease.
A recent study by Kings College London also found that thousands of cancer sufferers might still be alive if GPs had referred them for fast track appointments.
Professor Charles Swanton, chair of the 2015 NCRI Cancer Conference, said: “When cancers are diagnosed as an emergency presentation they are more likely to be advanced, which means they may have already spread to other parts of the body.
“Emergency presentation is a challenge across the country – not just in London – and is a complex problem that may reflect a myriad of different factors.
“Initiatives driving scientific, medical and societal advances in early diagnosis will be central for us to achieve world-class cancer survival in the UK.”
The research will be presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) annual conference in Liverpool on Monday,
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We want to be the best in the world for cancer care and survival, and we cannot achieve this while we have such high numbers of people with cancer being diagnosed late, through emergency routes. We are determined to tackle the issues identified by this important research.
“The recently published report of the independent Cancer Taskforce estimated that, if the NHS implemented its recommendations, there would be an additional 30,000 patients per year surviving cancer for 10 years or more by 2020, 11,000 through earlier diagnosis. We have already started to implement these recommendations.
“In addition, the new NICE guidelines lowered the referral threshold for suspected cancer and we continue to invest in public health campaigns to alert people to the symptoms of cancer.”