The best and worst regions for an early cancer diagnosis have been revealed by Cancer Research UK, who analysed data that recorded the stage of diagnosis in around two-thirds of all cancer cases in England.
Almost half the cancer patients in Merseyside (49%) are diagnosed late compared to 40% of patients in the South West (which incorporates Bath, Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire), they found.
If all the regions of England were as good as the South West at diagnosing cancer early nearly 20,000 more patients over two years could be diagnosed at stage 1 or 2, giving them a better chance of survival, the report said.
In response, Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs said: “The variation in early diagnosis shown by this research today could be due to a number of reasons including population characteristics, the numbers of patients presenting with symptoms that could potentially be cancer, and local hospital administration systems – not simply GP referral – and these all need to be addressed.
“Cancer is relatively rare in general practice and GPs are already doing a good job of appropriately referring our patients that we suspect of having cancer with 75% of patients found to have cancer being referred after only one or two GP consultations. Giving family doctors right across the UK better access to diagnostic tools, such as MRI and CT scans and ultrasounds, would inevitably improve this even further, and this must be a priority," she added.
In terms of breast cancer, almost a quarter of breast cancer patients in London were diagnosed late compared to just 10% in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire, equating to around 1,000 London breast cancer patients missing out on an earlier diagnosis.
Merseyside also had the lowest early diagnosis rate of bowel cancer in England, with almost 60% of patients diagnosed late compared with half of bowel cancer patients in East Anglia, which came top. This 10% difference equates to almost 140 Merseyside patients missing the chance of their bowel cancer being diagnosed earlier.
Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said: “We need to ensure that people with unusual or persistent changes to their bodies seek help rather than ignoring or putting up with potential cancer symptoms. And we need a system where GPs are supported in the diagnosis of cancer and there are the resources to ensure patients can be investigated promptly.”