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GPs told to increase the number of cancer referrals

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

  • Couple with doctor Large

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have called for GPs in England to nearly double the number of patients who they refer to hospitals for cancer tests to save thousands of lives every year.

Cancer survival in England is lower than the European average, which has been at least partly attributed to vast numbers of patients being diagnosed at a later stage through emergency referrals. For almost all types of cancer earlier diagnosis results in an improvement in both one-year and five-year survival rates. This NHS draft guidance seeks to ensure that patients are diagnosed at an earlier stage and therefore improve their chances of a successful outcome. The guidance, which is expected to be published in May 2015 following a consultation, is based on recent evidence about which symptoms best predict cancer.

Earlier diagnosis is the key for the UK to catch up with the rest of Europe in terms of cancer survival rates. NICE has said that healthcare professionals will be given more help to spot the early signs of cancer in an attempt to save more lives. NICE’s guidance includes tables which links symptoms to the cancers they are associated with, provides recommendations on how these should be tested and sets out the timeframes for referrals to a specialist, depending on urgency. Spotting cancer in its early stages has a real effect on a person’s prognosis because it often determines which treatments are available to be used, with many of the best treatments only effective in the early stages.

However, it can be very difficult for GPs to diagnose cancer in its early stages because GPs actually see very few cases of cancer and with over 200 different types of cancer it can be very difficult to identify. Most GPs only see eight cases of cancer each year and rare cancers, such as many blood cancers, often only once in their career. Additionally all of these different cancers have different symptoms which individually often suggest a variety of illnesses other than cancer.

The NHS will have to address these issues in order to improve early diagnosis and survival rates. However, there have been suggestions that whilst the guidance is positive, it will not be enough to aid earlier diagnosis unless GPs are given more funding, more staff and easier access to diagnostics. Whilst it remains to be seen how effective the guidance will be when it is published, it is at least a step in the right direction.

Monica Izmajlowicz, Leukaemia CARE Chief Executive said: “We believe that early diagnosis of blood cancer is the key to improved survival rates. From this position, we welcome any and all changes which put early diagnosis of cancer at the forefront. In addition to this we also need people to visit their GPs at the first sign of something suspicious in order to be in the best possible positon. We recognise how difficult it can be for GPs to diagnose cancers and understand that they need resources and support to detect potentially worrying symptoms. This is why we are in the process of developing our early diagnostic e-learning tool for GPs for all blood cancers, which is set to launch next year. We want to be able to support our GPs and provide them with the knowledge to spot the symptoms of blood cancer earlier.”

To view the original article, click here.