'Cinderella cancers' that doctors miss: Multiple visits to the GP needed for proper diagnosis
Many patients with less common cancers are referred to a specialist for diagnosis only after three or more trips to their family doctor, a study has found.
Those with multiple myeloma, pancreatic, stomach and ovarian cancer – which each have fewer than 10,000 victims a year – are most likely to need several GP visits before a hospital referral.
These are the so-called ‘Cinderella cancers’, regarded as the poor relation in cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Long-winded: Patients are facing several trips to the doctors before they are referred to hospital in some cancer cases (Posed by models)
Around half of patients diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, needed three or more GP consultations first. Patients with the disease are 18 times more likely to make repeat visits compared with those with breast cancer.
But even for one in three with common cancers such as lung and colon – currently the focus of a government awareness campaign – it took three GP appointments to get to hospital.
Women, young people and older patients from ethnic minorities were most likely to have to go back to the GP most often before they were given a hospital appointment.
Researchers at Cambridge University found three-quarters of cancer patients who first went to their family doctor with suspicious symptoms were referred to hospital after only one or two consultations.
But the study, published in The Lancet Oncology journal, said there were ‘wide variations’ depending on the type of cancer and patient.
The most pre-referral consultations occurred when the cancer was one of the less common types, or when the patient was female, aged 16 to 24 years, or an older person from an ethnic minority.
Poor show: Researchers at Cambridge University have found that it often takes three doctors' visits before those with 'Cinderella cancers' are admitted to hospital
The study, which looked at 24 different cancers, comes amid concerns that some patients are not given the best chance of beating the disease because of delays in diagnosis.
The study shows patients with breast, melanoma, testicular and endometrial cancers were more likely to be referred to a specialist after just one or two consultations.
However, those with some less common cancers such as multiple myeloma, pancreatic, stomach and ovarian, as well as those with lung and colon cancers and lymphomas, were more likely to require three or more GP visits.
The findings come from data on 41,000 patients taking part in the English National Cancer Patient Experience Survey 2010.
Dr Georgios Lyratzopoulos, clinical senior research associate at the University of Cambridge, said they showed the difficulty of detecting cancer when some ‘suspicious’ symptoms were found in many benign conditions.
For example, it might seem obvious that a smoker with a cough could have lung cancer, but such patients would also frequently suffer respiratory infections that have similar signs.
Joy Felgate, chief executive of the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, said: ‘This is sadly something our members have experienced all too often.
‘It is time GPs sat up and took notice. Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it isn’t there.’
A Health Department spokesman said: ‘We have committed 450million to help diagnose cancer earlier.’