Cancer diagnosis research gives Britain a wake-up call

21 November 2014

Cancer diagnosis research gives Britain a wake-up callCancer diagnosis research gives Britain a wake-up call

Cancer patients in Britain have less chance of surviving common forms of the disease than most patients elsewhere in the European Union.

That was the finding of a recent study looking at five-year survival rates in around 30 countries for stomach, colon, rectal, lung, skin, breast, ovarian, prostate, and kidney cancers, as well as non–Hodgkin lymphoma.

Survival here was better than the EU average only for skin cancer, while people in Scandinavian countries generally had the best chance of beating cancer.

Such findings demand careful examination of the reasons why Britain lags behind and experts say much of the problem can be explained by unnecessary delays in diagnosis.

This means many patients only start treatment once the cancer is advanced, something that causes especially high mortality rates in people over 75.

The patient charity MacMillan Cancer Support said the “depressing” findings must act as “a wake-up call”.

Millions of people across the world heard of the teenage blogger Stephen Sutton’s incredible fundraising efforts during his time undergoing treatment for bowel cancer.

His web page seeking donations to the Teenage Cancer Trust has raised close to £5million and, days before he died in May aged 19, Stephen learned that he was to be awarded an MBE.

But many people who were touched by his campaign may not be aware that he was at first misdiagnosed as suffering only constipation.

Speaking at a Teenage Cancer Trust event in September, his mother Jane said doctors had at first “completely ignored” the possibility of cancer despite Stephen experiencing pain, weight loss and fatigue.

One in four cancers is only diagnosed in A&E

Months earlier, in April, MacMillan issued a report of its own that shed further light on failings in cancer diagnosis.

It showed that one in four cases of cancer in this country is diagnosed in an accident and emergency department after being either missed by GPs or ignored by patients.

For some types of cancer, the proportion diagnosed in A&E is higher still – 32% for ovarian cancer, 39% for lung cancer, half for pancreatic cancer and almost two thirds for cancer of the brain or central nervous system.

According to the report, the risk of these patients dying within a year of diagnosis is double that of patients diagnosed after an urgent referral to a specialist from a GP.

Six in ten people diagnosed with cancer after admission to hospital as an emergency will not survive for a year. Among those referred by a doctor to see a specialist within two weeks the figure is 28%.

MacMillan is campaigning for this government – and the next – to do more to address the problem of late diagnosis.

The charity said problems include variable waiting times and some regions lacking all the tests and investigations that can aid diagnosis. It also called for a review of referral options available to GPs.

If you or anyone close to you has been misdiagnosed or experienced delay before cancer was discovered, specialist teams at are able to provide free advice about your patient rights.

They can also explain your options if you are considering making a complaint or starting a medical negligence claim so that you can make an informed decision.