Cancer: Delay in Diagnosis and Chances of Survival

Stephanie Prior
NHS pebbles

Table of Contents

According to Macmillan Cancer Support there are apparently an estimated 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK. It is predicted that by 210 this figure will increase and there will be in the region of 4 million people living with the disease. The number of people living with cancer in the UK increases by 3% each year.

As the population increases, due to people living longer there are increasing numbers of older people, such as over the age of 65 living with cancer. It is estimated that this figure has increased by 300,000 from 2010 – 2015.

Survival rates are increasing and apparently, the number of people who have survived five or more years from the date of their diagnosis has increased by 21% to over 260,000 between 2010 and 2015.

Delays in diagnosing cancer

The problem for some people is that there is often a significant delay in cancer diagnosis. This can be for various reasons and one of the main issues is that a third of cancer patients have to go to their GP at least twice before they are referred to a specialist.

The National Cancer Patient Experience Survey looked at 70,000 patients and it has revealed that some patients, at least 6%, had visited their GP 5 times or more before they were referred to a Specialist. 32% of the patients in this cohort saw their GP at least twice before being seen by a specialist. This delay can have an impact on their diagnosis and of course their chances of treatment and survival; it has been reported that 10,000 UK cancer deaths could be prevented each year if this country reached the European average for five-year survival.

Head of campaigns and policy for The Brain Tumour Charity, Martin Abrams, said: ‘We are disappointed that the results of this year’s National Cancer Patient Experience Survey have not been as good as hoped for brain tumour patients’

Once a patient has been referred to a specialist, the other issue is that there can be delays in an appointment being arranged with the specialist and the various further tests and investigations being carried out thereafter.

Delay in cancer diagnosis case study

I am acting for a family who have experienced such delays, in that a male family member who was 67 years of had been referred by his GP to a specialist as had been experiencing a strange, hot, sunburn sensation over the left side of his face which had persisted since its onset, approximately six months prior. He had also complained of tinnitus.

He was given an appointment to see a specialist and this took place within 2 weeks. Further tests and investigations including a MRI were carried out. The MRI revealed abnormalities and these findings were not communicated to the treating GP and no follow up appointments were arranged despite the formal scan report being submitted to the treating consultant.

The family attempted to contact the hospital on numerous occasions to find out the results of the MRI scan to no avail. After 11 months they had still not received the test results.

After a further 8 months the male family member collapsed on holiday overseas, he was taken to hospital and he was diagnosed with high grade glioma and despite treatment died 8 months later.  Significant opportunities were missed to diagnose his condition earlier.

The NHS has recommended that ‘At least 93 per cent of people should be seen by a cancer specialist within two weeks of being urgently referred by their GP’.  However, statistics reveal that as at April 2019 only 89.8% do.

Pressures on the cancer medical teams

In the press it has recently been quoted, ‘It is clear from these results that the increasing pressures and demands of an already stretched cancer workforce are having an impact on the experiences and overall care for brain tumour patients and on the very day that the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivers his 2019 Spending Review, we hope there is a serious and significant commitment to fund the cancer workforce across the NHS.

While it is appreciated that it is often difficult to diagnose many types of cancer at the early stage for many reasons including vague symptoms and symptoms mimicking other conditions. It is also the case that delays in diagnosis is detrimental not only to the person concerned but their family and friends. Delays can have a devastating impact.

A way ahead?

It has been suggested that the ‘‘The most effective way to address this is to give GPs and our teams in primary care better access to the appropriate diagnostic tools in the community – and the training to use them.’

Further, ‘Cancer is an enduring priority for the RCGP, and we have worked with Cancer Research UK and others to develop resources for GPs and other healthcare professionals to support them in the timely diagnosis of cancer’

Blog written by Stephanie Prior, Head of Clinical Negligence

Share this article