Why Cancer Diagnoses are Hard to Come by for Some

Cancer diagnoses delayed for some groups in UK

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(RxWiki News) The cancer journey usually starts with a visit to a family doctor. That's where most people go to have suspicious symptoms checked out. Getting to a diagnosis isn't all that easy for some folks in England, though.

In the United Kingdom, a new study shows that young people, women and ethnic minorities have the most trouble being diagnosed with cancer in a timely fashion.

"If you have a suspicious symptom that doesn't go away, see your doctor."

Just over three-quarters of cancer patients are referred to a hospital for diagnostic tests after one or two visits with their family physicians - or GPs as they're called in England. This isn't the routine for young people, women and non-white individuals. They visit their GPs three or more times.

This same scenario holds true for people who have symptoms of rarer cancers that are trickier to detect, according to the latest "Cancer Patient Experience Survey" published Online First in The Lancet Oncology.

Different cancers take GPs longer to diagnose the survey shows. Cancers that don't have screening tests are particularly arduous. Patients who have symptoms of multiple myeloma, lung, and pancreatic cancer have many more visits than those who have signs of more common cancers including breast, melanoma and testicular.

"These findings highlight limitations in current scientific knowledge", explains Georgios Lyratzopoulos from Cambridge University, and lead author of the study. "Medical research in recent decades has prioritized improving cancer treatments, but knowledge about the 'symptom signature' of common cancers and practical solutions on how best to diagnose them is still emerging."

The authors, analyzed data provided by more than 41,000 patients with any of 24 different cancers treated in 158 hospitals across England. The researchers looked at the number of GP visits occurred before referral to a hospital for testing according to cancer type, age, sex, ethnic group, and socioeconomic status.

Three or more visits to GPs were far more likely among patients who were eventually diagnosed with multiple myeloma, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and cancers of the pancreas, stomach, lung, colon and ovaries.

The researchers say the delays could be the result of the differences in symptoms that aren't as easy to discern as say a lump for breast cancer or a mole for melanoma.

For younger and ethnic minorities, authors surmised that GPs were less likely to consider cancer a possibility, and communication difficulties may have played a role with patients of different ethnicities.

Younger patients and those from ethnic minorities were also more likely to have had several GP consultations before hospital referral compared with older or white patients, indicating that GPs are less likely to consider cancer a possibility in young people and possible communication difficulties with patients from different ethnic groups.

"We hope our research can help to generate support for further research into the diagnosis of those cancers where the challenge of detection is greatest. This will improve the patient experience of cancer diagnosis and can also lead to earlier and more effective treatment," Lyratzopoulos said.

"Research and policy should explore and assess physician-level educational interventions, further development of point-of-care decision aids, risk calculators and diagnostic tests, and redesign of systems to enable more appropriate and timely use of specialist diagnostic tests (e.g., imaging or endoscopy)," the authors conclude.

In the United Kingdom, healthcare is provided through the National Health Service (NHS), which is paid for by general taxation. A full range of health services are provided mostly free of charge to UK residents.

Last Updated:
February 23, 2012