Just 58 per cent of patients with suspected cancer are referred to a specialist after seeing their GP for the first time, according to new research- but this rises to 82 per cent after two consultations.
With the UK lagging behind other countries when it comes to cancer survival rates, researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Bangor and Durham decided to measure the promptness of cancer diagnosis in primary care.
After looking at data from over 13,000 patients, they found just over half- 58 per cent- were referred after the first visit. However, 82 per cent of cancer patients were referred to a specialist after two visits to their GP.
Dr Georgios Lyratzopoulos, study author, said: “These results show the progress we’re making in spotting cancer at the earliest opportunity. We now understand the typical symptoms of some cancers, like breast and melanoma, very well and that helps doctors to spot them quickly.”
Writing in the British Journal of Cancer, the researchers also discovered that some cancers were harder to spot in the initial consultations, because the symptoms are common and can be mistaken for less serious conditions.
About a third of lung and stomach cancer patients needed three or more consultations before they were referred to a specialist.
A recent study by charity Target Ovarian Cancer showed that almost a third of women with ovarian cancer had to wait six months for a diagnosis after they first went to see their doctor.
Dr Lyratzopoulos said: “Other cancers have less typical symptoms, making them more difficult to recognise straight away. 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.”
Sara Hiom, early diagnosis director at Cancer Research UK, said that it was important 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.
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