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05.02.14

Diagnosis time for common cancers reduced

The time taken to diagnose some of the most common cancers fell by an average of five days over six years, new research suggests.

Published in the British Journal of Cancer, the study looked at GP records of over 20,000 people over 40 in England diagnosed with one of the 15 types of common cancers in either 2001/02 or 2007/08. The patients had pre-reported possible symptoms to their GP in the year before diagnosis.

Researchers from the universities of Bangor, Exeter and Durham concluded that the improvement may be due to the introduction of NICE guidelines for urgent referral of suspected cancer, published in 2005.

The guidance gives GPs advice about symptoms that could indicate common cancers. Patients whose symptoms were prioritised by the guidelines took less time to be diagnosed than those which were not.

Professor Richard Neal, professor of primary care medicine at Bangor University and the lead study author, said: “Our study shows that there was a small but significant improvement overall in diagnosis times for many cancers between 2001-2002 and 2007-2008. And this is likely, at least in part, to be as a result of the introduction of the 2005 NICE urgent referral guidelines.”

Professor Greg Rubin, study author from Durham University and clinical lead for cancer for the Royal College of GPs and Cancer Research UK partnership, said: “Diagnosing cancers early can make a real difference to survival. We know that patients’ chances of beating the disease are better when the disease is caught early as treatments are more effective before the cancer begins to grow or spread.”

Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s good to see small improvements like this, but it’s also clear that too many cancer patients are still waiting too long to have their cancer diagnosed - and we don’t think that’s good enough. That’s why Cancer Research UK is working hard to raise awareness of early diagnosis through research and activities to help give patients the best chance of beating their cancer – by having it diagnosed at an earlier stage.

“This study shows it’s possible to make a difference to the speed of diagnosis for some cancers through influencing policy and changing the way that potential cancer symptoms are dealt with.”

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