Diagnosis times for cancer are down, new data shows, especially for bowel, oesophageal and pancreatic cancers.

Of six cancers examined by researchers, bowel cancer showed the biggest improvement, with it now being found on average 75 days after a patient first visits their GP with symptoms to diagnosis, down from 96 days in 2001-2.

For oesophageal cancer, the average diagnosis time went from 59 days to 48 days by 2007-8, and for pancreatic cancer, the figure dropped from 63 days to 52.

The data is being presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool this week, based on information collected from the General Practice Research Database on more than 14,400 patients aged 40 or over who had been diagnosed with any of the six cancers under review, and who had previously shown potential cancer symptoms.

Breast, stomach and lung cancers did show a drop, though not a significant one.

Midway between these two time periods was the release of the 2005 NICE referral guidance for suspected cancer cases. These guidelines provide GPs with details of symptoms that should prompt them to send a patient for further tests.

Dr Richard Neal, lead researcher based at the North Wales Centre for Primary Care Research, Bangor University, said: “We found that diagnostic intervals can and do change over time. The reduction between 2001-2 and 2007-8 may in part be due to the roll out of the 2005 NICE referral guidance for suspected cancer. This gives clear guidance on which symptoms should prompt a doctor to refer a patient for further investigation. But there is considerable variation between cancers, with diagnostic intervals highest in those cancers which are more difficult to diagnose.

“Diagnostic intervals were longer for patients with harder to diagnose cancers and for those presenting with symptoms that did not qualify for an urgent referral. But diagnostic intervals remain long in most cancers, with considerable potential for further reduction. In particular, the diagnostic intervals for the 10% of patients who are diagnosed most slowly remain very long for most cancers. And we do not fully know the effect of the reduction of diagnostic intervals on improvements in stage at diagnosis and long term survival.”

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of information, said: “It’s very encouraging to see that patients are, on average, being diagnosed more quickly for some cancers, offering a better chance of successful outcome. It’s clearly vital for GPs to have access to good quality information to make the best decisions for their patients. There is still room for considerable improvement though, and reducing the time to diagnose and treat is a critical part of improving outcomes for people with cancer.”

Author's Bio: 

Roy Rowlands writes for National Health Executive an essential guide to health service managers offering a wide view of healthcare news, views and opinions