Patients face postcode lottery for early detection of cancer

Patients face a postcode lottery for early cancer detection, with high-performing areas three times more likely to diagnose cancers at stage 1 and 2 than other parts of England, official data reveal.

Cancer scan: wide variation in early detection across England (Photo: iStock)
Cancer scan: wide variation in early detection across England (Photo: iStock)

GPs are expected to take the lead on early cancer diagnosis plans, following revamped guidance from NICE on referral for tests.

Map: early cancer diagnosis

Statistics showing the proportion of cancers diagnosed at stage 1 and 2 in 2013 have been released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). In some CCG areas, the data show more than 60% of cancers are diagnosed early, while in others as little as 21% of cancers are picked up at this stage.

GPs have been under pressure to refer more patients for diagnostic tests following the overhaul of NICE guidance, which senior doctors say could overload the referral system.

The HSCIC hopes that the statistics will help to identify CCGs with lower scores, which could then work to boost their early diagnosis rates.

‘It is expected that CCGs will be able to impact on early cancer staging in a number of ways,’ the Indicator Quality Statement accompanying the data said.

‘For example, they could encourage people to attend cancer screening programmes when invited and commission appropriate treatment services.’

Data quality

A spokesperson from Public Health England (PHE) has previously told GPonline that the data may be incomplete in some areas, as information about the stage of all cancers may not have been included in the data.

‘Therefore an area with a very low percentage of early stage cancers in this indicator is very unlikely to actually have that low a percentage of early stage cancers in the population,’ she said.

The CCGs with the most ‘complete’ data have been outlined in black in the map above. Early diagnosis statistics will be published annually, with data quality expected to improve in the future.

‘CCGs could impact on cancer staging recording by encouraging hospital trusts to record this information as soon as possible and to make sure it is passed on to the cancer registries,’ the HSCIC report said.

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