Patients showing the possible signs of cancer will be tested for the disease more quickly under new guidelines being issued to doctors.The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is encouraging GPs to screen patients before symptoms get too severe so that they can be referred to specialists sooner.
GPs will be given the tools to carry out basic diagnostic tests in their surgeries and updated information will be published for the public to help them recognise the most common signs of cancer.
Dr Steve Hajioff, Chairman of NICE’s Guideline Development Group, said: “There is no better consultation than the one between an informed patient and an educated clinician.
“What this guideline sets out to do is inform patients and educate clinicians.
“The GP is now better equipped to offer the right direction to improve a patient’s care and outcomes than they were beforehand.
“It was necessary because knowledge moves on.
“The previous guidance was produced in 2005 and a great deal of research has been published since that time.”
Around 300,000 new cancer diagnoses are made every year and late diagnosis is estimated to be responsible for 10,000 deaths a year.
The guidance aims to reduce that figure by half.
But south London GP Dr Hamed Khan told Sky News that while he welcomes the principle, he fears a deluge of patients swamping surgeries and cancer wards.
He said: “We will need more GPs because we will need more appointments to see these patients.
“Our secondary care colleagues will also need higher capacity and more appointments in their outpatients clinics.
“We will require more resources for the diagnostic tests – more scanners or endoscopy facilities – and that will cost a lot more.
“When you consider that the NHS is being asked to make £20bn of efficiency savings – a time of extreme financial squeeze – that will be all the more difficult to provide.”
NICE has admitted there will be a “modest increase in cost” to the health service, but hopes it will be negated by treating fewer patients in the advanced stages of cancer.
Cancer Research UK said it “warmly welcomes” the guidelines.
Gemma Harrison from Surrey visited her GP ten times over the course of six months before being referred to a specialist, even though she showed symptoms of nausea, weight loss, and pain that spread from her stomach to her back.
It took another six months before she was finally diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2010.
She died a couple of months later at the age of 26.
“They told me on April 1st that there was nothing that could be done for her,” recalls her mother Debbie.
“By nothing they meant no treatment, no radiotherapy, no chemotherapy, and no surgery.
“In other words, it was too late.”
“I do remember saying to the consultant ‘what do you mean there’s nothing you can do? She’s only 26 years old.’
“It was almost as if they were talking about someone else and it’s only been in the intervening years that I’ve been able to reflect and really think about how that diagnosis impacted our lives.
“There’s anger, disappointment, anguish, and a real sense of injustice because I do firmly believe that if she’d had a scan, had she been able to see a specialist a year before she died, she would have been in a much stronger position.”