New research by Public Health England (PHE) shows that the number of cancer cases diagnosed as a result of patients attending A&E or GP surgeries as an emergency has decreased.
PHE says that at the same time, the number of cancers diagnosed as a result of urgent GP referral has increased.
The results of the research were presented at the PHE Conference 2015 and the study used data from the updated Routes to Diagnosis, which covers patients diagnosed with cancer from 2006 to 2013.
The results published data for 2011-2013 for the first time – the new preliminary figures for this period show the proportion of patients diagnosed by year in England as well as how they were diagnosed (eg GP referral on suspicion of cancer).
The figures show that, in 2006, nearly 25% of cancers were diagnosed as an emergency.
However, in 2013, this figure had fallen to 20%, despite an overall increase in the number of cancers being diagnosed.
For a commonly-diagnosed cancers such as lung cancer, the proportion diagnosed through the GP two-week wait referral route increased from 22% in 2006 to 28% in 2013.
The proportion diagnosed through patients attending A&E departments or emergency appointments with doctors fell each year, however – from 39% in 2006 to 35% in 2013.
Head of Clinical Epidemiology at Public Health England, Julia Verne, said:
“The latest Routes to Diagnosis data show a positive trend in how cancer is diagnosed in England.
“The earlier the better if we are to catch up with comparable European countries – and I am pleased that our Routes to Diagnosis work has been able to drive this.
“We should also note the importance of other work like PHE’s Be Clear on Cancer campaigns in helping people spot symptoms early – and PHE’s NHS Screening Programmes in helping detect some cancers early.
“The reason this is good news is because patients diagnosed as an emergency presentation have lower chances of survival, compared to those diagnosed in other routes.
“These improvements in routes to cancer diagnosis follow several years of work across the sector to improve early diagnosis in England.
“Our work however, is not complete – while emergency presentation is declining it still remains high for cancers like liver and pancreas.
Director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, Sara Hiom, said:
“It’s really encouraging to see fewer people being diagnosed through emergency routes, because we know survival is poorer and the experience is worse for these patients.
“When cancer is caught early, we have more options for treatments and a far better chance of beating the disease.
“But we must still do better. It’s unacceptable to see such variation in patient care continuing – and too many people are still being diagnosed as an emergency in hospital.
“As well as variation by cancer type and between hospitals, there are also significant differences in the treatment of our older patients – such as being much less likely to have surgery than younger ones.
“The new cancer strategy makes clear recommendations for how we can improve England’s cancer survival and patients’ experience. There should be no reason why we can’t be as good as the best in the world.”
The eight Routes to Diagnosis each describe the end point of the pathway a patient follows leading up to a diagnosis of cancer.
These include a Two-Week Wait (urgent GP referral with a suspicion of cancer) – or Emergency Presentation (an emergency Route via A&E, emergency GP referral, emergency transfer, emergency consultant outpatient referral or emergency admission or attendance).
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