Evidence on weight loss and cancer link should be considered in clinical guidelines

New research published in the British Journal of General Practice looking into weight loss as a predictor of cancer suggests clinical guidelines need to be in place in primary care

Weight loss is a non-specific cancer symptom; currently there are no clinical guidelines to support GPs and their teams in how to respond to, or investigate, patients presenting with weight loss but without other symptoms in the cancer setting.

A new study, published in British Journal of General Practice, which summarises the available evidence on weight loss as a symptom of cancer in patients presenting to primary care, found that a primary care clinician’s decision to code for weight loss is highly predictive of cancer.

Weight loss as a predictor of cancer in primary care: a systematic review and meta-analysis says that, ‘For such patients, urgent referral pathways are justified to investigate for cancer across multiple sites.’

Commenting on the study clinical lead for Cancer at the Royal College of GPs, Dr Richard Roope said: “GPs will always be vigilant when presented with any symptom that could indicate cancer, including unexplained weight loss, whilst recognising that this could be a symptom of many other, more common conditions.

“But currently there are no clinical guidelines to support GPs and their teams in how to respond to or investigate patients who present with weight loss, without other symptoms, in the cancer setting.

“These important findings present strong evidence of the correlation between significant unexplained weight loss and many cancers, and should certainly be taken on board as clinical guidelines for GPs and healthcare professionals are updated and developed.

“We agree with the researchers’ recommendations that GPs need better access to diagnostic tools in the community across the UK so that we can appropriately refer patients to either rule out or confirm a diagnosis of cancer, as currently our access is amongst the lowest in Europe. We hope the pilot of ‘one stop’ cancer clinics, announced last week by NHS England, in addition to the roll out of the Faster Diagnosis Standard programme, will be a step to achieving this across the country.

“Cancer is an enduring priority for the College and we are working with Cancer Research UK, and others, to develop resources to support GPs in the timely identification and diagnosis of cancer.”

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