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Let's beat cancer sooner

Most people diagnosed with cancer every year will have visited their GP at some point to report their symptoms. So the GP’s role in reaching a speedy and accurate diagnosis is key. In many cases a GP visit will lead to further tests and a diagnosis, but in other cases the cancer may not be spotted straight away.

The fact is spotting cancer can often be difficult.

Signs of cancer may not be clear or obvious and GPs see, on average, only around eight new cases a year. A full time GP will have between 6,000-8,000 appointments every year. And they will only have around 10 minutes per appointment to pick out warning signs that could be cancer but equally may be a symptom of a less serious condition.

These 10 minutes are crucial –which is why we’re working closely with GPs to support them with the training and resources they need to spot patients with potential cancer symptoms.

Today we’re pleased to announce a new partnership with the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust aimed at improving the early diagnosis of cancer by providing more support for GPs.

In this post, we explore why early diagnosis is so important, what we hope to achieve through our new partnership, and talk about our other work with GPs.

Early diagnosis saves lives

Early diagnosis improves the chances of beating cancer; if cancer is caught at an early stage before the disease has spread treatment is more likely to be successful.

Thousands of lives every year in the UK could be saved through earlier diagnosis.

For example, more than 40,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year – around 70 per cent caught at the earliest stage survive for at least one year, compared to fewer than 15 per cent of those diagnosed at the latest stage.

Lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers, largely because more than two thirds of patients aren’t diagnosed until the cancer is at a later stage.

Knowing your body

So why aren’t more cancers spotted early?

The answer isn’t simple. First, people need to know when they should visit the GP in the first place. This means being aware of their bodies and noticing any unusual or persistent changes.

And when a person spots an unusual symptom, there are lots of reasons why they may put off visiting the doctor – not realising their symptoms are serious, worrying about wasting their doctor’s time, fear of what they will find.

One of our recent campaigns was designed to help overcome some of these barriers.

The challenges GPs face

But once that vital step is taken and an appointment to see the GP has been made, the signs that they might have cancer aren’t always clear or obvious.

There are more than 200 different types of cancer, and the symptoms are often vague. Different people can experience very different symptoms – even for the same cancer. And some forms of the disease are often hard to tell apart from a range of more common problems.

GPs also need to find a balance between referring people they are concerned about and causing unnecessary worry and discomfort by sending every patient they see for further testing – this would also slow down diagnoses by overwhelming the labs with test results.

This makes the GP’s role very challenging.

That’s why it’s essential that we support GPs, providing them with useful information so they can keep up to date with all the developments in cancer diagnosis and treatment. And that’s what our new partnership with the Royal Marsden is about.

The Royal Marsden partnership

GPs will be able to access online training and attend regular events with talks from leaders in the field and the opportunity to share expertise.

The first session will concentrate on the key signs of women’s cancers, including breast cancer, and those that are more difficult to diagnose early like ovarian and womb cancers.

By working closely with GPs, we have an opportunity to get their feedback too and identify not only where an early diagnosis can be missed, but also what else we can do to help them in the surgery and to make it easier for them to deal effectively with these early warning signs.

Online resources

The online training from this partnership builds on a range of information about cancer we’ve already developed for Doctors.net.uk, a membership site visited by more than 10,000 doctors daily.

This includes guidelines on when to refer people for further tests and advice about health messages to pass on to patients.

We also worked with the British Association of Dermatologists to design a toolkit on Doctors.net.uk to help GPs diagnose skin cancer.

Our toolkit gives doctors a visual guide to a range of different moles to help them recognise when people need to be sent for more tests. It’s been used by nearly 10,000 GPs across the UK – that’s nearly a quarter of all GPs.

And our analysis suggests that it increases GP confidence in deciding when patients should be referred for further skin cancer tests.

Local support

And we don’t just stick to cyberspace. We also provide face-to-face support to 1,500 GP practices around the UK, in partnership with the NHS.

Our specialist team holds educational events for staff, raising awareness of the importance of early diagnosis. They provide up to date local information, look at how referrals for more tests could be made faster and encourage practices to develop their own action plans, which are known to help improve early diagnosis.

We’ve also developed practical kits with posters and leaflets to help GPs and nurses raise cancer awareness with their patients too.

Early feedback from the surgeries that we’ve worked with shows that providing this intensive level of support has helped them manage patients with signs and symptoms of cancer better. Two thirds of practices are now developing cancer action plans to improve diagnosing cancer early.

And a report about to be published by the University of Durham suggests that this type of support is extremely valuable and is having a real impact in getting patients with potential cancer symptoms referred into hospital more quickly.

Saving more lives

By tackling early diagnosis on two fronts – helping both members of the public and GPs – we want to bring forward the day when most cancers are spotted early and when treatment is more likely to cure people.

Our partnership with the Royal Marsden marks another important step towards improving cancer diagnosis. It won’t be our last.

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Lily May 9, 2014

Will the online training for GP’s be openly accessible to the general public etc. too? Surely it would help if this information is shared with all – the more awareness, the better?

Sam Coleman April 10, 2014

That’s great news! We’ve all heard about doctors workloads so any easy access to resource and help about all things ‘cancer’ has to be a good thing.

Jayne Strange April 10, 2014

I sincerely hope this works, my father in law was mis diagnosed, he already had prostrate cancer, but was also suffering from bowel cancer (un related to each other) think GP assumed that he wouldn’t be so unlucky to have 2 types of cancer at the same time. Only found out when he paid for a private MRI scan.

Emma Smith February 13, 2014

Hi Jim,
Even when several members of the same family all have had cancer it does not necessarily mean that you are at increased risk, especially if they all had different types of cancer. Most cancers happen by chance and are not related to a strongly increased risk through family history. If you want to talk your risk through call our nurses on 0808 800 4040 from 9am till 5pm Monday to Friday. There is more information about family history and cancer http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/about-cancer/causes-symptoms/genes-and-inherited-cancer-risk/about-genes-cancer-and-family-history . Your GP should have access to guidelines to follow to help them work out if you are at increased risk. It may be helpful to print off the information from our website and talk this through with them.
Having a healthy lifestyle and eating a healthy balanced diet is certainly a good way of lowering your risk of cancer in general.

Jim Esser February 12, 2014

Hi my name is Jim. I am 69 years old ,fit and healthy.and one of 6 children. Unfortunately my dad and 2 siblings died of cancer and 2 more had cancer,1 is fine many years later but the other appears to be declining rapidly. That leaves me and my younger brother what I would call seriously at risk. When my sister died 6 weeks ago I explained my fear to my G P who arranged a negative blood test. My question is how can I best keep ahead of what I consider to be the inevitable ,how best can I push the G P to look to my needs . I really want to discover anything at a very early stage .Is there any sort of at risk screening. I live a healthy lifestyle and my wife sees I eat all the right foods. Thanks for letting me rant a little.

Emma Smith February 12, 2014

Hi Angela,
Thanks for your comment, and we’re very sorry to hear about your daughter. To answer your query, all of the online resources, like the information we developed for Doctors.net, is available to GPs in Wales (and all across the UK). And our partnership with the Royal Marsden also welcomes GPs from anywhere in the UK, although the events themselves are based in London – but again highlights are available via the internet. At the present, our local support teams work with GP practices in London, Thames Valley, Merseyside & Cheshire, and Glasgow. If the programme is successful, it might be rolled out to cover more of the UK in the future.

Angela February 11, 2014

This is so needed. My daughter was back and fore our GP for 2 years before she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. It was too late for her to have an operation, and she died last October aged 27. When I went with her to see a Doctor at the hospital and said I was very concerned that she had every symptom for cancer I was told by the Doctor that he had never seen a case of stomach cancer in her age group and dismissed
our fears. He later rang to apologise, but it was all too late. My daughter
only for just over a year from her diagnosis. Young people
have cancer and doctors must consider this earlier. I live in Wales and am concerned that this partnership working may not be available to Welsh doctors as health Is devolved in Wales?

Angela February 11, 2014

Will this partnership with the Royal Marsden also be available to Doctors in Wales?

Kiley Defibaugh February 11, 2014

I think that this program to help GPs is exactly what we’ve been needing. I know how common that signs of cancer can be missed, something that I have dealt with personally. My mother had stage four breast cancer, she found a lump under her breast and reported it to her doctor. Her GP told her that she must have just pulled a muscle and that the lump would go away shortly, two months later she was diagnosed. Due to the fact that her cancer was not caught until it was already stage four it had already spread to her brain and ended up being terminal. After four years of fighting cancer my mother lost her battle. I can not express how important early detection is and for GPs to get the proper training and access to information should really help diagnosis cancer earlier.

Lesley Shannon February 10, 2014

I forgot to say that Laura’s bowel cancer spread all over her liver, into both lungs, and into her bones. Laura lived for nine months and was given less than 6 months on diagnosis. Laura did not know her cancer was terminal. she was so brave and courageous and fought till the end. aura had a very healthy lifestyle in every aspect of healthy, did not smoke, drink, had very healthy diet and physical fitness and not linked to causes that one reads of. I also wished to add that early detection is key to saving lives. Sadly this did not just happen to our daughter. I have now come across stories of so many young people dying of advanced bowel cancer going undiagnosed. last week alone two young people I know of have passed away and this has to be stopped as it is preventable if detected early enough. I would like to see bowel testing kits being made available to people of any age should they request one. aura complained to doctors who dismissed her sigs and symptoms. if she had been able to request a bowel testing kit she could be alive today and I will fight to make this a possibility of being available if younger people feel they have a problem they could phone and request one. thank you for listening.

Lesley Shannon February 10, 2014

I wish this had been in place prior to now. Our beautiful young daughter complained to local doctors about signs & symptoms of bowel cancer for over 2 years & was actually told “you are too young to have bowel cancer”. We have been told if the correct procedures & tests had been carried out initially our beautiful daughter would and should still be alive. Our daughter was married for 29 days before she died age 31. We buried her 11 months ago today and I do all I can to try to raise awareness in her memory. If I as a parent can help in any way please contact me as I would be happy to talk in fort of thousands of professionals & lay people alike about what happened to our beautiful daughter to stop it happening to others.