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Addressing regional variations in early diagnosis could save thousands

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Earlier diagnosis can improve a patient's survival Earlier diagnosis can improve a patient's survival chances

More than 20,000 patients could have their cancer diagnosed at an earlier stage, improving their chances of survival, if regional variations in diagnosis were addressed, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

The report found that 49% of cancer patients in Merseyside are diagnosed late compared to 40% of patients in the South West. It states that if diagnosis rates in Merseyside were equal to that in the South West, nearly 1000 more patients would have been diagnosed when their cancer was at stage one or two. ‘We don’t know for sure why there’s such variation across England and it’s likely that a lot of factors are coming into play’ Dr Jodie Moffat, head of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said. ‘These might include patients not going to their doctor as early as they could with possible cancer symptoms, and GPs sometimes failing to suspect cancer or not referring patients for diagnostic tests promptly.’

A similar pattern is observed in specific, common cancers. For breast cancer, the figures show that nearly 25% of patients in London were diagnosed late compared to just 10% in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. This equates to around 1,000 London breast cancer patients missing out on an earlier diagnosis. ‘Wherever you live, an early diagnosis of cancer will give you more treatment options and a better chance of survival’ Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said. ‘It’s unacceptable to see such variation across England, with some areas falling far behind others in prompt diagnosis of different cancers.’

With bowel cancer, Merseyside saw nearly 60% of patients diagnosed late compared with half of bowel cancer patients in East Anglia. This equates to almost 140 Merseyside patients missing the chance of their bowel cancer being diagnosed earlier according to the report. ‘It’s not easy to make sure that all cancer patients are diagnosed as early as possible, but it’s vitally important’ Ms Hiom added. ‘We need to ensure that people with unusual or persistent changes to their bodies seek help rather than ignoring or putting up with potential cancer symptoms. And we need a system where GPs are supported in the diagnosis of cancer and there are the resources to ensure patients can be investigated promptly.’

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