Further education is needed if GPs are to follow new guidance that could detect cancer earlier, according to the National Institute for Healthcare Excellence (NICE).
New guidance on cancer diagnosis highlights the symptoms that could indicate the disease, of which there are 37 different types.
With 300,000 cancer diagnoses’ in the UK every year (an average of eight per doctor), the new guidelines could save up to 5,000 lives per year – but the key to this is early diagnosis, which is what the guidance is attempting to encourage.
There are currently 10,000 more deaths from cancer in the UK than is the European average.
Professor Willie Hamilton, a professor or primary care diagnostics at Exeter University, helped to create the guidance and believes the key to saving lives is about “getting the right patients to the right tests at the right time.”
The guidance now means that doctors will be able to request MRI and CT scans and endoscopy tests, as well as the X-rays and blood tests that they could previously request.
Hamilton believes that “there is an educational element” in letting doctors and patients know what is a symptom of cancer and what isn’t.
Abdominal pain and fatigue are potential symptoms of some forms of cancer, for example, although people might not be aware of this.
Director of early cancer diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, Sara Hiom, points out that “we do fewer diagnostic tests in this country than comparable countries, but there is a lack of workforce, perhaps a lack of kit, to do those tests, so patients may be missing out because there are delays, backlogs or bottlenecks and this really does need to be addressed.”