Survival results for cancer depend on how quickly the symptoms are treated. This fact makes a new report on the state of patient referrals in England devastating. The research, published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety, found that only 40 percent of people with “red flag” symptoms were urgently referred to an oncologist in 2015.
This failure flies in the face of recommended guidelines, which say to refer people with suspicious symptoms for a specialist assessment within two weeks.
Almost four percent of these patients were subsequently diagnosed with cancer within 12 months.
To collect their results, the researchers analyzed the records of nearly 49,000 patients who saw their GP with one of the warning signs of cancer that should warrant referral under clinical guidelines.
They found that six out of 10 patients had not been referred for cancer investigation within two weeks of the first visit.
READ MORE: Symptoms of Bowel Cancer: What Color is Your Urine? Three colors that signal bowel cancer
Symptoms of the “red flag” included blood in the urine, breast lump, swallowing problems, iron deficiency anemia, and postmenopausal or rectal bleeding.
The lowest benchmark rate was for swallowing problems, at just 17 percent, and the highest was for breast mass, at 68 percent.
“The number of patients who are diagnosed with cancer without an emergency referral indicates that following the guidelines more strictly would have significant benefits,” the researchers wrote.
Lead author of the study, Dr Bianca Wiering, said: “It is important to note that this problem is not just for GPs – we also need to make sure that the services to provide the necessary tests for referral are well endowed, which we know is currently not always the case.
Professor Martin Marshall, President of the Royal College of GPs, said: “General practitioners follow clinical advice to ensure that referrals are appropriate and sensitive to the risks of over-referencing patients, as this would risk overloading specialist services and would not be helpful to patients. or the NHS.
“General practitioners find themselves in a position where they are criticized for having both too much and too little referred: what would help is better access to diagnostic tools in the community and additional training to use and interpret them. the results, so that references better manufactured. “
According to the NHS, you should talk to a GP if you’ve noticed these changes and it’s been going on for three weeks or more:
- Stomach discomfort
- Blood in your poo
- Diarrhea or constipation for no obvious reason
- A feeling of not having completely emptied your bowels after using the bathroom
- Pain in the stomach or back (anus).
There are over 200 different types of cancer that can cause many different symptoms, but any unusual changes are worth considering.
Cancer diagnosed at an early stage, when it is not too large and has not spread, is more likely to be treated successfully.
In England, more than nine in ten patients with bowel cancer survive the disease for five years or more, if diagnosed at an early stage.
There is a bowel screening program in the UK for people without symptoms.
“You don’t need to wait for your invitation to be screened if you’ve spotted something that’s not normal for you. Take charge and talk to your GP,” advises Cancer Research UK.