The way in which cancers are diagnosed in England is improving, according to new figures.
The proportion of cancers diagnosed as emergencies has fallen since 2006, while the proportion diagnosed following urgent GP referrals has increased.
“The earlier cancer is detected, the greater the chance that treatment will be successful.” – Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK
Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, welcomed the reduction in emergency diagnoses but said that more needed to be done.
“It’s critical that plans to boost numbers of NHS staff in diagnostic services are put into action without delay – otherwise we won’t be able to diagnose cancer as early as possible,” he said.
Understanding how cancer is diagnosed
The figures come from Public Health England’s (PHE) latest Routes to Diagnosis dataset. It includes data on cancer diagnoses from 2006-2015, which covers more than 3 million cancer cases. Diagnoses follow eight different ‘routes’, including screening, emergency presentation, routine GP referral and urgent GP referral (also called the two-week wait system).
The information helps understand how cancers are picked up, as those diagnosed at A&E tend to be more advanced than those diagnosed through screening or a GP appointment, and have a poorer prognosis.
The new data shows that 3-year survival for cervical cancer diagnosed following screening is 95%, compared to 65% when picked up following an urgent GP referral.
“The earlier cancer is detected, the greater the chance that treatment will be successful,” said Kumar.
Other key findings include:
• The proportion of cancers diagnosed in an emergency, where outcomes are the worst, has fallen from 24% in 2006 to 20% 2016;
• Diagnoses through urgent GP referrals have increased from 25% in 2005 to 37% in 2015;
• Diagnoses of pancreatic cancer through emergency presentation – with the very worst outcomes – has fallen by 6%;
• Diagnoses of colorectal cancers through the national bowel screening programme – the route with the best survival – remain under 10%
• The number of cancer cases diagnosed in A&E varies across the country, ranging from a low of 8% to 20% in London.
This latest update includes a new interactive website
, showing trends in cancer diagnosis for 53 different types of cancer.
Early diagnosis to improve treatment success
More people are being diagnosed with cancer, mainly because people are living longer and risk of developing cancer increases with age. Lifestyle factors, such as the increase in obesity over the last few decades, have also contributed to the rise in cases.
Dr Jem Rashbass, Cancer Lead at Public Health England said that diagnosing cancer earlier is one of the most important ways to improve cancer survival. “Patients who have their cancer diagnosed as an emergency have poorer outcomes,” he added.
Steve Brine, health minister, said that with cancer survival at a record high it’s imperative that there is a greater awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer.
Cancer Research UK is running a campaign to take action on NHS staff shortages in England.