Earlier detection of cancer by GPs central to better care

Credit: This story was first seen on On Medica

Quicker detection of possible cancer and referral onwards for suspected cases will be crucial in improving cancer services in Wales, according to a report published this week.

The NHS Wales report Together for health: cancer annual report 2016 says that cancer survival rates in the country are improving but early detection is needed to improve outcomes for patients because too many people are being diagnosed with cancer at a late stage, On Medica reports.

It highlights some national improvements, including increasing survival, but also identifies a handful of problem areas and states that late diagnosis, addressing lifestyle risks for cancer and improving access to tests and treatment times must all be tackled.

The report outlines changes being piloted to develop a new way to diagnose patients who see their GP with non-specific symptoms that may be cancer, and to improve diagnostic services.

It also calls for patients to have the stage of their cancer recorded at diagnosis, as a way of measuring how well services are performing with regards to early diagnosis.

The authors said that a high proportion of patients in Wales had their cancers diagnosed at a late stage, leading to worse survival, more challenging treatment and a worse quality of life after treatment.

Some of the reasons given for late diagnosis included lack of public awareness of symptoms and lack of willingness to bother GPs, leading to diagnosis often occurring as an emergency, for example via A&E.

The report outlines areas for improvement, including support to raise awareness of cancer symptoms and better access to GP services.

Working with Macmillan Cancer Support had helped the NHS in Wales to invest time and resources to support GPs with earlier diagnosis, said the authors.

In 2015-16, there were 81,282 suspected cancer referrals, an increase of 12% compared to the previous year.

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However, improvements were needed in how GPs recognised symptoms and referred patients with suspected cancer, in particular lung cancer, where survival remained lower than other parts of Europe.