Brinkmann Gynaecology

Almost half of cancer patients are diagnosed too late

Almost half of people who get cancer are diagnosed late, which makes treatment less likely to succeed and reduces their chances of survival, Cancer Research UK warned this week.

In a report, the charity claims that 46% of all patients with cancer in England have their disease diagnosed when it has already reached an advanced stage.

The findings have highlighted the worryingly high rates of late diagnosis and consequent poor survival for people with many types of cancer in Britain.

Although the situation has improved in recent years, Britain still has one of the worst records in Europe for both identification of cancer and survival from it.  Charities have described Britain’s cancer survival rates as a “national shame” compared with those of other countries.  Recent figures show the UK has lower five-year survival than the EU average for nine out of ten common cancers.

The charity's research found that 46% of all cancers diagnosed in England in 2012 were not detected until they had reached stage three or four, according to its analysis of data collated by the NHS's National Cancer Intelligence Network.

Only 44% of ovarian cancers were diagnosed at stage one or two.

Ovarian cancer is likely to be spotted late

The report warns that 52,000 cancer patients a year could live longer if diagnosis rates improved.  Of those, 5,000 could expect at least an extra five years’ survival.  The study examined seven cancers including ovarian cancer.

Early diagnosis is key

"Diagnosing cancer at its earliest stages, before it has had a chance to spread to other parts of the body, can have a huge effect on survival", said the charity.

"Once a cancer has spread, it is often harder to treat successfully, meaning that a person's chances of surviving are much lower."

What is late diagnosis?

Late diagnosis can occur when a patient delays going to see a doctor about symptoms they have developed, or a doctor wrongly judges those signs to be of no concern or believes they indicate another illness, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Anyone who notices something unusual about their body should visit their GP at once. "GPs play a critical role of course, knowing when symptoms need to be investigated and referring patients promptly for tests," she said. 

This week Cancer Research UK, the Guardian and Daily Telegraph published articles on the economic benefits of diagnosing cancer early.

Click here to make an appointment.