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Doctors Encouraged To Increase Cancer Referrals

NICE Is Encouraging GPs To Refer More Patients For Cancer Screening


Improvements are being called for with regard to the diagnosis of cancer in the UK, with GPs being encouraged to significantly increase the number of patients they refer for oncology testing appointments.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published new guidance on the matter, as part of a report entitled 'Early diagnosis can help save lives'.

Last year, an NHS survey revealed that around one-quarter of all patients diagnosed with the disease had to visit their GP at least three times before they were referred to a cancer specialist, with this delay potentially leading to their illness worsening.

What's more, statistics indicate that almost one in every two people will be diagnosed with the condition at some point during their lifetime, with in the region of 1.2 million individuals referred for screening every year.

However, under the new NICE guidelines, this could increase to around the two million mark, meaning more cancer cases could be detected early on, helping to save lives.

More specifically, it is expected that referrals for children's cancers could rise by ten to 20 per cent, those for lower gastrointestinal forms of the condition could increase by five to 15 per cent (up to an extra 28,800 people) and lung cancer screening could climb by ten to 15 per cent.

Clinical practice director at NICE Professor Mark Baker explained: "The problem is that a lot of cancer symptoms can be very general and similar to those of other conditions.

"Unless it is a cancer-related sign or symptom that we are very familiar with - a lump in the breast for instance - many people won't even think about the possibility of cancer."

He added that with more than 200 different forms of the condition, it can be challenging to identify, which is why screening referrals should be encouraged as a precautionary and potentially life-saving measure.

The increase in referrals will come at a cost to the NHS though, with this predicted to be somewhere between £17.8 million and £36.3 million, according to NICE.

Expert Opinion
Early diagnosis and the start of treatment for those found to be suffering from cancer play a crucial role in their chances of survival and recovery. It is crucial that all those patients showing symptoms of cancer are screened and begin treatment immediately.

“In our work we have seen the impact delays in cancer treatment can have on patients. It is vital the standard of cancer care is improved and it is positive to see action is being taken to increase the number of people referred to cancer specialists when they begin to show any symptoms of the disease.”
Mandy Luckman, Partner

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