GPs are failing to spot two thirds of cancer cases, study claims

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GPs are failing to pick up two thirds of cancer cases according to new research.

Studies show for the first time how long patients have to wait for a diagnosis after first visiting their doctor’s surgery.

Getty – Contributor

GPs are failing to pick up on two thirds of cancer cases, according to research[/caption]

Large numbers of cases that ended up being diagnosed as cancer were not suspected as cancer cases by GPs and patients missed out on urgent referrals as a result.

In the study of more than 135,000 patients, those with the two most common forms of cancer had an average wait of over eight weeks for diagnosis.

Head of early diagnoses at Cancer Reasearch, Dr Jodie Moffatt said that it was “worrying” to see the high numbers of patients not being diagnosed until they were in hospital as an emergency.

Dr Moffat said: “Clearly there are patients here for whom a quicker timescale would have meant a different outcome, in terms of survival. We need a system that works for all patients.

“One of the things this shows is quite a few cases which came through as an emergency presentation, which is worrying. For some of these patients, it is the difference between life and death.

There are patients here for whom a quicker timescale would have meant a different outcome


Dr Jodie Moffatt

“We need to encourage and support GPs to be a bit more proactive about thinking who might have cancer, and also in not getting too caught up in stereotypes about who might have particular types of disease, such as not thinking about lung cancer in nonsmokers.

“When you look at international research, it shows GPs here tend not to refer patients for tests as those in some other countries [do].”

The research, conducted by Cancer Research UK found that 37 per cent of all cancer diagnoses were from GPs giving the patient a urgent referral because the disease was suspected.

Only 32 per cent of bowel cancer diagnoses and 28 per cent of lung cancer diagnoses were discovered in this way.

On average the research discovered that those with bowel cancer wait on average 61 days for a diagnosis. This is five weeks longer than the cases which were picked up on by GPs, and one in four patients faced a delay of more than three months.


Patients suffering from lung cancer had to wait an average of 69 days, double the length of time of those that were given an urgent referral by their GP.

In a statement to the Telegraph, NHS England said: “This report is right about the benefits of early diagnosis, but it describes the position in 2015, not the situation today.

“In the four years since this report’s now outdated figures, there has been a huge increase in urgent cancer referrals with two million cancer checks last year – the highest number on record, and more than double those undertaken in 2010.”

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