Current guidelines for diagnosing cancer do not meet patients’ expectations

Posted: 23/01/2014


The charity Cancer Research UK has reported that over 330,000 people each year in the UK are diagnosed with cancer. This is an increase of about 50,000 people a year compared to a decade ago and largely due to the increase in life expectancies, with age being the biggest risk factor for developing cancer.

Speaking to BBC News, Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, recently commented: "As the population ages, more people than ever before will be told, 'You have cancer'. Research is the only way we'll be able to reduce the devastating impact of the disease. One day we will beat cancer. The more research we do, the sooner that day will come."

Despite an increase in diagnoses, there is still concern about the time that it takes for cancer symptoms to be investigated. Research by the University of Exeter has shown that patients want cancer symptoms to be checked out more quickly than recommended by NHS guidelines.

The Lancet Oncology has published the findings of a study based on 3,649 people on the current investigation guidelines for cancer. Researchers have found that, based on a patient’s symptoms, they need to have a one in 20 chance of having cancer before further investigations will be carried out. 

Unsurprisingly, the study found that the majority of patients wanted to be checked out if there was a one in 100 chance of cancer and any symptoms linked to the possibility of cancer to be investigated as quickly as possible.

Dr Jonathan Banks of the University of Bristol has commented on the study, saying: "This large study provides a clear and comprehensive account of public preference for investigation of cancer. It shows for the first time that there's a strong preference for diagnostic cancer testing, even if the risk is very low. This desire far exceeds what is actually being offered by the NHS, and we hope the findings can help policymakers and doctors in shaping guidelines and practice.”

Sarah Gubbins, associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, commented: “This study has highlighted the significant gap between patients’ expectations and the current NHS guidelines in relation to the investigation of cancer symptoms. We fully support the need to update the existing guidelines so that they are more in line with people’s expectations. Specifically, it is important to make sure that patients are referred to a specialist as quickly as possible and that symptoms are investigated, even if there is a reasonably low chance of diagnosing cancer.

“We are all fully aware of the fact that the earlier a cancer is detected, the more likely it can be successfully treated, improving a person’s chances of survival. Sadly, at Penningtons Manches, we see a lot of cases relating to delayed diagnosis of cancer where symptoms have been present for some time and patients have either been falsely reassured and/or the process of investigation has been very slow. We understand the devastating effect that the knowledge that diagnosis has been delayed can have on people’s lives. In the future, patients need to feel confident that any worrying symptoms will be promptly investigated so that either their minds can be put at rest or, if they are diagnosed with cancer, the correct treatment can be provided at the earliest opportunity.”


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