Cancer risk of patients who have to wait more than 48 hours to see their doctors
Researchers believe that the ease of getting appointments with family doctors may play a crucial role in patients’ survival chances
06:42 GMT, 10 August 2012
Patients who struggle to get an appointment with their GP within 48 hours are more at risk of being diagnosed with cancer too late, researchers claim.
They are far more likely only to have the cancer diagnosed in A&E – by which time it is often so advanced it is difficult to treat.
Researchers believe that the ease of getting appointments with family doctors may play a crucial role in patients’ survival chances.
Concerning: Patients who struggle to get an appointment with their GP within 48 hours are more at risk of being diagnosed with cancer too late, researchers claim
Those who are told to come back next week, next fortnight or even later may be more inclined to just ignore their symptoms and convince themselves they are not serious.
But those who can see their GP easily are more likely to have the symptoms spotted while the disease is still treatable.
Britain has one of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe and experts believe this is largely because cancers are often diagnosed too late.
Up to a quarter of all patients only have their cancers diagnosed in A&E or following an emergency referral to hospital from their GP.
Such cases are known as ‘emergency presentations’ and by this stage patients are often very ill and their survival chances slim.
Academics from Imperial College London looked at patients at 8,000 GP practices over the course of three years from 2007 to 2010.
Hard statistics: Up to a quarter of all patients only have their cancers diagnosed in A&E or following an emergency referral to hospital from their GP
They compared how easy it was for patients to get appointments at the surgery with the likelihood patients would be diagnosed with cancer too late – either at A&E or through an emergency referral.
Patients whose surgeries were usually able to offer appointments within the next 48 hours were 30 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with cancer following an emergency presentation.
The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, also found that patients in poorer areas of England were 50 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer too late.
Dr Alex Bottle, study author from Imperial College London, said: ‘Our new research highlights just how crucial it is for cancer survival to have fast and easy access to primary care.
‘GP practices where more patients are able to get an appointment with their GP within 48 hours were less likely to have patients turn up as emergency admissions to hospital.
‘Previous work has shown that nearly a quarter of cancer patients are first diagnosed through an emergency admission to hospital and that these patients have a poorer chance of surviving cancer. We wanted to find out if there was anything about these patients – their age, sex, ethnicity, where they lived, the type of cancer they had that meant they were more likely to first present with cancer as an emergency. We also wanted to see whether there were any characteristics of their GP practice that influenced unplanned cancer admissions.'
Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘We know that in the UK we have an unacceptably high proportion of cancers being diagnosed via an emergency admission to hospital. The important message remains to go to your GP without delay if you have persistent symptoms or unusual bodily changes that worry you.’