Charity calls for better early diagnosis of common cancer

THOUSANDS OF lives and millions of pounds could be saved if patients with bowel cancer were diagnosed earlier, a charity says today.
Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA WirePicture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

New figures released by Beating Bowel Cancer show the majority of patients are still diagnosed too late, with huge variations across England over how soon it is detected.

The best performing clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are diagnosing 63 per cent of patients early compared with only 30 per cent in the worst, research by the charity found.

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In Yorkshire, the area with the best early diagnosis rate is Doncaster with 54 per cent of patients found with early-stage disease. This falls to only 39 per cent of patients in south and east Leeds, rising to 49 per cent in the west of the city.

The charity’s figures show that if every NHS region in England performed as well as the best at diagnosing the disease early, 3,200 lives could be saved and £34m could be diverted to other bowel cancer services and treatments.

If every patient with bowel cancer was diagnosed sooner, at stage one or two of the disease, the NHS could avert treatment costs of more than £103m, it said.

Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer but those diagnosed with stage one bowel cancer have a 97 per cent chance of survival compared with just six per cent when the cancer is more advanced.

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As well as providing patients with a much better chance of survival, it also costs the NHS far less as treatment for the earlier stages of cancer is often less intensive and invasive than when it is more advanced.

Beating Bowel Cancer chief executive Mark Flannagan said: “It’s unacceptable that there are CCGs in England that diagnose less than one in three patients at an early stage. If they all performed as well as the best, thousands of lives could be saved and millions of pounds could be freed up to be used for other bowel cancer treatments, which patients are frequently told are unaffordable.

“This will require further improvements in screening, renewed efforts to raise awareness of signs and symptoms, and investment to support improvements in GP performance in investigating and referring patients appropriately.”

About 41,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and around 16,000 people die of it annually. It is the fourth most common cancer in the UK.

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*New research published yesterday reveals men with advanced prostate cancer driven by certain genetic defects could benefit from a pioneering drug originally intended for women.

Olaparib, the first cancer drug to target inherited genetic mutations, was licensed last December to treat women with ovarian cancer.

Now trial findings have indicated that it could be effective at fighting a third of advanced prostate cancers. If approved as a new therapy, men would have to undergo genetic testing to qualify for the treatment. Those eligible would have defects in genes responsible for DNA repair, including BRCA. Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Prostate Cancer UK, said: “We want to get to a stage where every man gets the treatment he needs for his specific cancer. The use of DNA testing to identify mutations like BRCA and direct treatment to them is a huge step in that direction and so these early results are very exciting.”

Each year around 42,000 men in the UK are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 11,000 die from the disease.