71% of Emergency Cancer Cases are Missed by GPs

71% of Emergency Cancer Cases are Missed by GPs

Worrying results in a report from the British Journal of General Practice shows that nearly three-quarters of emergency cancer diagnosis occur in patients who have been to see their GP at least once regarding their symptoms. Bowel Cancer UK’s findings show that 41% of patients who have their condition diagnosed as an emergency saw their GP at least three times about their concerns.

An emergency cancer diagnosis is one which resulted from the patient visiting A&E, having an emergency hospital admission, or having an emergency GP referral.

The study looked at nearly 4,700 patients and found that emergency diagnosis was more likely to affect men than women, but that women were more likely to have been to their GP several times. Older males in economically deprived areas are the least likely to seek treatment and advice from their GP about their symptoms.

It is understandable that some patients may not see their GP before having an emergency diagnosis.  For example, a seizure or a crippling headache may be the first indication of brain cancer and a patient would have had no prior cause to visit their GP. In other instances, a significant proportion of patients (41% for bowel cancer and 31% for breast cancer) had seen their GP at least three times before receiving an emergency diagnosis. Research across all types of cancer show that the sooner it is diagnosed and treated the more likely it is to be curable, so it is vital these numbers are reduced.

Follow up with the manager of the practice if you have had your symptoms dismissed or ignored by your GP, or they have promised a referral that has not come through. Seek a second opinion from another doctor in the practice and, if you still believe your possible symptom is not being taken seriously, complain. You have the right to complain about any part of NHS care, including the service provided by your GP. All NHS service providers in England must have a clearly defined complaints procedure, and you can complain to your GP directly, or submit your complaint to the commissioner of services who funds your GP’s practice.

You may feel ignored or let down by a particular part of the NHS but that does not mean that the entire service will fail you. PALS (the Patient Advisory and Liaison Service) can give you information and support when using the NHS complaints process.

Reducing Your Risk

You can minimise the possibility of an emergency cancer diagnosis by:

  • Seeing your GP when you have any so-called “red flag” symptoms. These can include blood in your stool (colon and rectal cancer), a painful breast lump or discharge (breast cancer), and a mole that has changed in colour, shape or texture (skin cancer).
  • Stay active and eat a healthy diet, replacing sugar, processed meat and food with whole foods like fruit, vegetables and fish.
  • Stop smoking and do not drink more than the recommended maximum alcohol intake.
  • Understand what is “normal” for your body so that you can quickly recognise any changes that may be caused by cancer.

No one likes to think they may have cancer. Ignoring the symptoms, or allowing medical professionals to dismiss your worries without adequate investigation, could mean the difference between early diagnosis and successful treatment, or an emergency diagnosis, invasive treatment and a far less optimistic prognosis.

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