One in four cancer patients has experienced a delay in diagnosis that could have been avoided, according to a new study funded by Cancer Research UK and published in Cancer Epidemiology.
The study looked at national cancer registry data for 17,042 patients diagnosed with cancer in 2014.
Participating GPs were asked to identify delays in diagnosis that they deemed avoidable, together with the ‘setting’ of the avoidable delay and key attributable factors.
Among 14,259 patients, 24 per cent were deemed to have had an avoidable delay to diagnosis. Patients with a reported avoidable delay had a longer median diagnostic interval (92 days) than those without (30 days).
Of all avoidable delays, 13 per cent were deemed to have occurred pre-consultation, 49 per cent within primary care and 38 per cent within secondary care. Avoidable delays were mostly attributed to the test request/performance phase (25%).
Delays were more likely in certain cancers. For instance, patients with myeloma were more likely to experience delays while being assessed by their GP than patients with breast cancer.
Multimorbidity was associated with greater odds of avoidable delay (odds ratio for 3+ vs no comorbidity: 1.43; 95% CI, 1.25-1.63), with heterogeneous associations with cancer site.
Cancer Research UK says the findings are an indication of staff shortages in diagnostic services.
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: “There simply aren’t enough people in the NHS to read scans or report tests swiftly."
“The Government will never achieve the diagnosis and survival ambitions they have set unless they urgently address NHS workforce issues. Without more of the right staff, including GPs, it will be impossible to diagnose and treat patients more swiftly and effectively.”
It is worth noting that since 2014, referral pathways have changed, allowing for earlier investigation and referral.