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One third of cancer patients diagnosed as an emergency had not visited GP

Posted by: 25 April 2017

A Cancer Research UK report, published today (Tuesday 25th February) in the British Journal of General Practice (1), found that around a third (34 per cent) of cancer patients diagnosed as an emergency had not visited their GP beforehand. Pancreatic Cancer UK says this is extremely worrying because when people are diagnosed via the emergency route, they are far more likely to have symptoms of advanced disease. This means that the only potentially life-saving treatment of surgery is unlikely to be possible, and as a result patients are likely to live for just two to six months. Existing figures show that almost half (47 per cent) of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed via the emergency route, which is more than double the average number of all cancer patients (23 per cent) diagnosed in this way (2).

The new report also found that a quarter (23 per cent) of patients had visited their GP three times or more before being diagnosed.

Commenting on the Cancer Research UK report, Anna Jewell, Director of Operations at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “Sadly these new figures do not come as a surprise, as we already know that almost half of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed as an emergency, which usually means they have advanced disease. Tragically this will mean they will live for just two to six months on average. This study once again shows two enormous problems. Patients don’t know that their symptoms could be a sign of pancreatic cancer so they are not visiting their GP. When they do, the disease is not at the forefront of GPs’ minds, so people are not referred quickly enough for tests to confirm the diagnosis at an early stage.

“This simply must change if we are to transform the future for patients with this tough disease, and that’s why we are calling for the public and GPs alike to be more aware of the symptoms. These can include tummy pain that can spread to the back, significant and unexplained weight loss, yellow skin or eyes or itchy skin, oily floating poo and indigestion. It’s vital we all play our part in ensuring that people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed earlier, when potentially life-saving surgery is much more likely to be possible.”

References:

1) Gary A Abel and colleagues, Emergency diagnosis of cancer and previous general practice consultations: insights from linked patient survey data, published in the British Journal of General Practice, 25th April 2017

2) National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service, Percentage of Diagnosis by Route 2006 – 2013, workbook A: http://www.ncin.org.uk/publications/routes_to_diagnosis