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A third of emergency cancer patients don’t see GP before diagnosis

Over a third of cancer patients diagnosed as an emergency in England did not see their GP beforehand, a survey published in the British Journal of Medical Practice has today revealed.

Research funded by the charity Cancer Research UK analysed data from more than 4,600 cancer patients suffering from 18 different types of cancer in order to find out how many times they had seen their GP about their problem before their condition got to a critical state.

It was also found that men, the elderly and those from deprived backgrounds were more likely than other demographics to have had no prior GP visits. Cancer Research stated that this is down to a number of practical, emotional and health barriers than can make people in these categories less likely to ask for help from their doctor.

On top of that, just below a quarter (23%) of patients had visited their GP three or more times before their condition was diagnosed as an emergency. In some cases, this is due to the symptoms of certain cancers being tough to spot, such as with myeloma and lung cancer.

The charity’s researchers were based at UCL, the University of Cambridge, the University of Exeter and Public Health England.

Dr Georgios Lyratzopoulos, one of the lead researchers based at UCL, said that the findings show that some patients diagnosed as an emergency might not be acting on ‘red flag’ symptoms which could have prompted them to visit their GP before being admitted to hospital.

“There’s also a host of other factors that may be at play,” Dr Lyratzopoulos explained. “For example, many elderly patients may find it difficult to get to the surgery or have other conditions which would prevent them from seeking an appointment, such as dementia.

“This highlights the need to explore all the reasons why cancers are diagnosed late, including what happens outside GP surgeries. It also shows that late diagnosis is more complex than it’s often presented to be, as there are multiple reasons why cancers are spotted late.”

And Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Campaigns like Be Clear on Cancer have boosted the public’s awareness of cancer signs and symptoms. But this study shows that there are multiple reasons that affect how and when a cancer diagnosis is made.

“We need to continue to increase awareness of cancer signs and symptoms and help break down the barriers preventing people from seeing their GP earlier, whilst GPs need better access to the right tests and referral routes if we want to see this number reduced.”

Today’s findings follow a similar survey undertaken last year that found that many patients avoided going to the doctor due to difficulties making an appointment and fears talking to GP receptionists.

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