1 in 5 emergency cancer patients could be diagnosed earlier

A recent study published by University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has revealed that 1 in 5 patients whose bowel cancer was diagnosed during emergency admission between 2005 and 2006 could have been diagnosed up to 12 months earlier when they began to show “red flags” of the disease.

The research looked at the GP and cancer registration records of colon and rectal 1600 patients over the age of 25. 95% had been to see a doctor in the 12 months before their diagnosis, many on multiple occasions, with 23% of rectal cancer patients and 18% of colon cancer patient displaying red flags in that time. Red flags are symptoms that could indicate cancer, and may require referral for investigation.

The research has not pointed fingers at failures of doctors to refer. It notes that there may be multiple reasons why diagnosis was not reached. Christine Renzi, the lead researcher of the study, which was funded by Cancer Research UK said

It might be that the doctor has referred them to have a diagnostic test and maybe the cancer progressed more rapidly; it might be that the patients had to come back and they didn’t”.

But there does remain the likelihood that at least some of those patients should have been referred for investigations when presenting with the red flags. Patients must be aware of the need to go back to their GP is symptoms persist or new ones develop, and not to wait in the hope that things will “go away”. Ms Renzi added that

The GPs need more support to deal with patients who present with non-specific symptoms in order to be able to diagnose cancer earlier”.

If you or anyone you know has been affected by the delay in diagnosis of cancer, contact our specialist medical negligence team on 0800 316 8892, or enquire online here.