GPs urged to test cough patients for cancer


Family doctors have been provided with detailed guidance on how to spot cancer as there are fears that they dismiss the early warning signs as harmless.

This is the first time that GPs have been asked to refer patients with symptoms that appear harmless, such as tiredness or a cough, for tests within two days.

Britain has one of the lowest survival rates for cancer in Western Europe. For some types of cancer, it is ranked behind Estonia and Bulgaria.

This is believed to be due to GPs not referring patients for tests when they indicate confusing symptoms, including tiredness, abdominal pain and cough. However, experts are concerned that many patients choose not to bother their doctor with what they think is a minor symptom.

The new guidance asks doctors to refer patients suffering with ‘unobvious’ symptoms for X-rays, scans and blood tests within 48 hours. Some of the symptoms include fever in youngsters, bleeding, bruising and tiredness. They state that these could be the initial signs of brain cancer, lung cancer or leukaemia.

There will be instances where doctors should refer patients for tests within hours, including children who repeatedly wake up with headaches or vomiting.

Professor Mark Baker, based at NICE, the NHS watchdog, said that many cancer symptoms are very general and similar to those related to other conditions. He said that unless the symptom is a familiar one or related to cancer, such as a lump in the breast, most people do not consider the possibility of cancer. He added that it is not always easy for doctors to spot cancer as there are over 200 different types, so it is not realistic to expect them to be aware of every single symptom related to each type, however early referral and diagnosis could save lives.

Figures indicate that 25% of cancer patients have three consultations with their GP prior to being referred for hospital tests. Many of these have rare cancers that their doctor may only experience a few times during their career.

Cancer Research UK’s Sara Hiom, said the guidelines will offer doctors more options to quickly refer patients, but for them to be effective, doctors require better access to diagnostic testing and quicker results.

The guidance came after it was revealed that thousands of cancer patients are waiting too long to start their treatment. Official figures indicated that for the third time during this year the NHS has failed to meet its target of ensuring that a minimum of 85% of patients receive radiotherapy, chemotherapy, drugs or undergo surgery, within 62 days of specialist referral.

Over the last quarter, only 83.5% of 33404 patients have received treatment.

One third of hospitals failed to meet their target, with some only treating 50% of patients within 62 days.

Image Credit: Simon James


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