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Patients want to see cancer test referrals made sooner

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 15, 2014

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Patients want doctors to refer them for cancer tests far sooner as experts say early diagnosis is the best way to bring the UK's survival rates in line with the rest of Europe.

A study led by Bristol University reveals the public believe NHS guidelines for investigating symptoms set the risk threshold 'too high'.

And leading medics claim if GPs sent people for more tests at an earlier stage, it would cut the UK death rate from cancer, which is higher than the European average for nine out of the ten most common cancers.

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The research from West Country academics and medics is published in Lancet Oncology today, the same day as leading charity Cancer Research UK claims more people than ever before are developing the disease.

Modern lifestyles and an ageing population are blamed for the rise which means one third of a million people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer every year.

Researchers at the University of Bristol and the University of Exeter Medical School are working with the NHS on the Discovery Programme, a five-year initiative which aims to prevent hundreds of unnecessary deaths each year.

After quizzing thousands of people in the region they found 88 per cent wanted symptoms investigated even if they only carried a one per cent risk of cancer.

Co-author Professor Willie Hamilton of the University of Exeter Medical School is responsible for updating National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) referral guidelines which suggest patients need to have a 5 per cent risk before more tests are carried out. He said: "One main reason for the UK's poor performance on cancer is that fewer patients with symptoms obtain an early diagnosis.

"Currently the NHS isn't offering cancer diagnostic testing at the level patients requested in this study.

"How this gap can be narrowed is a critical and compelling decision for the NHS as a whole."

In the UK, one in three people in the UK will develop cancer during their lifetime and earlier diagnosis is considered to be one of the main ways to improve survival.

In the study, 3,649 people from Bristol and South Gloucestershire, Devon and the East of England were asked to fill in a total of 6,930 graphic analyses of symptoms which indicate cancers.

They were then asked about their preferences for diagnostic testing for either colorectal, lung or pancreatic cancers.

Participants, who were all over 40 and picked from a cross-section of society, cited peace of mind and the importance of early detection as their main reasons for wanting further testing to be carried out as soon as possible.

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