Over 50,000 people are dying early every year because their cancer was not picked up early enough, and almost half of cancer cases are diagnosed late, according to new research.
Cancer charities said that it was outrageous that cancer patients were dying early because too many GPs failed to act when a patient presented with symptoms or because of delays in getting an appointment when referred to hospital.
Cancer Research UK, which analysed the statistics, say that 46% of cancer cases in England are only picked up when the disease has progressed, making it harder to treat. They also warn that if the areas which perform the poorest in early diagnosis could improve their standards to the levels of the best performers, 52,000 cancer patients could live for longer.
Out of that total, 5,000 could expect to live for at least an extra five years. The study looked at survival rates for seven of the more common cancers: lung, melanoma (skin cancer), breast, bowel, ovarian, prostate and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. From the seven cancers studied, lung cancer was the one most likely to be picked up late, with 77% of cases only being diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease. Ovarian and bowel cancers were also likely to be spotted at a later stage, but breast cancer was more likely to be picked up early.
NHS targets to treat 85% of patients referred with suspected cancer within 62 days of being referred by their GP were missed for the first time earlier this year since they were introduced in 2009.
Cancer charities have said that the UK’s survival rates for cancer are a “national shame” when compared to our EU neighbours. Figures show that for 9 out of 10 of the most common cancers, the UK has lower survival rates than the EU average. This includes rates for prostate, lung, breast and bowel cancer. Misdiagnosis of cancer is one of the more common grounds for claiming medical negligence compensation.
According to Cancer Research, there are two main problems. Firstly, some family doctors are just not picking up on the early signs which could indicate cancer. Secondly, some patients are experiencing delays in the system when their doctor refers them to hospital. If patients were diagnosed earlier, they would get greater benefits from treatments and a greater chance of surviving for longer.
Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, Harpal Kumar, said that the UK was failing cancer patients by not investing more in earlier diagnosis.
The Cancer Research report, which was compiled by UK health care consultancy Incisive Health, concluded that quicker diagnosis could in the long run save £200 a million a year. This is because early treatment and surgery to remove a tumour were cheaper than the more extensive work needed once a cancer has spread.
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