As the headline suggests, some very worrying results about a cancer diagnosis in a recent report from the British Journal of General Practice. In fact, the report shows nearly three-quarters of emergency cancer diagnosis occurs 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. In other words, emergency cancer cases are missed by personal doctors.
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.
2020 Covid-19 Pandemic UPDATE
Some disturbing news about cancer screenings emerges as a result of the worldwide pandemic. The Guardian quotes Cancer Research UK in their June 2020 article that there has been a significant breakdown in cancer treatment services.
More than 24,000 cases of cancer have gone undiagnosed as a result of the suspension of normal services while delays in treatment mean some people’s disease is now inoperable.
Another 20,300 cancers have also been missed because an estimated 290,000 people were not urgently (receiving cancer referrals) by their GP for investigation within two weeks of possible cancer symptoms, it says.
This makes for a disturbing issue that piles on to treatment struggles for cancer patients, let alone those with suspected cancer symptoms. From cancer services to cancer surgery to lung cancer treatment to cervical cancer screenings and beyond, simply being open for business right now for screenings tests are the new “getting back to normal.” With tests and treatments, cancer services are currently in a new light.
Likewise, the BBC reports that CRUK states 2.4 million people have gone undiagnosed with cancer since the pandemic started.
Three in 4 Emergency Cancer Cases Missed by GPs
The study looks at nearly 4,700 patients, finding that emergency diagnosis was more likely to affect men than women. However, 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. As a result, a patient would have had no prior cause to visit their GP.
In other instances, many patients saw their GP at least three times before receiving an emergency diagnosis*. Research across all types of cancer show that the sooner the diagnosis and treatment, the more likely it is to be curable. So it is vital to reduce these numbers.
What you can do when cancer cases are missed by your GP
Follow up with the manager of the practice if you a GP dismisses or ignores your symptoms. Moreover, get on to them whenever they promise a referral that does not come through.
Seek a second opinion from another doctor: complain if you still believe they’re ignoring your symptom. 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. Accordingly, you can complain to your GP directly. Alternatively, submit your complaint to the commissioner of services who funds your GP’s practice.
Although a part of the NHS fails you, but that doesn’t mean the entire service will do so. 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); or a mole that changes in colour, shape or texture (skin cancer).
- Stay active and eat a healthy diet. Diet experts will advise you to replace 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 from cancer.
Admittedly, human nature dictates a certain minimal level of optimism: therefore, no one likes to think they may have cancer. Ignoring the symptoms, or allowing medical professionals to dismiss your worries without adequate investigation, could have a large effect. In truth, it might 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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*Statistics show that 41% are for bowel cancer, while 31% are for breast cancer.