Experts have warned that half of all cancer cases are spotted at a stage when treatment options are likely to be unsuccessful.
They have calculated that in excess of 52000 patients are having their survival odds cut annually due to the disease being spotted too late.
These shocking figures are based on huge diagnosis variations across England, with some cancers being five times as likely to be diagnosed too late in some parts of the country.
Lung cancer is one of the diseases that is likely to be spotted late. Only one in four cases of lung cancer is caught early.
Late diagnoses have been blamed on factors such as GPs being under pressure not to refer patients for expensive tests and a ‘stiff upper lip’.
The analysis of NHS data was commissioned by Cancer Research UK, and they stated that an early diagnosis is critical to offer patients the best survival chance. Treatment delays are not only deadly, but also means that patients have to undergo more aggressive treatments that would have been required had the diagnosis been made promptly.
An example is a woman with breast cancer may only require surgery if the tumour is detected early. However, if the disease has been allowed to spread, she would have to face several bouts of gruelling radiotherapy and chemotherapy too.
Around 46% of cancers in the UK are diagnosed when they have reached an advanced stage, which makes it more difficult to treat. For lung cancer, the biggest cancer killer, this figure increases to 77%. If this particular cancer is diagnosed early, 70% of patients will survive for at least one year, compared to 25% when it is diagnosed late.
The Incisive Health report estimates that if all areas in the country were to do as well as the best, the ‘survival prospects’ of more than 52000 patients would be greatly improved.
This does not imply that all patients will be cured. It means that some would live longer or be saved from the gruelling treatments. However, 5000 more patients would still be alive five years after their diagnosis.
The cost of treating advanced cancer indicates that if it was caught early, it would save the NHS a projected £210m annually.
The chief executive of Cancer Research UK, Harpal Kumar, said earlier diagnoses can save lives and vital NHS funds. Kumar said that in view of the NHS being overstretched and the annual increase in cancer numbers, everything needs to be done to ensure that patients gain access to the best treatment options, as early as possible.
NHS England has stated that it is working towards the improvement of outcomes for patients by offering earlier diagnoses. It stated that the survival rates have ‘never been higher’ than it currently is.
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