Early cancer diagnosis varies twofold across England

GPs have called for variations in early cancer diagnosis to be scrutinised after official data revealed a twofold variation in the proportion of cancers detected at stage 1 or 2 across CCG areas.

Two thirds (61%) of cancer patients receive a diagnosis at either stage 1 or 2 in the top performing CCG area, compared to 33% in the lowest, according to CCG outcomes data for 2014/15 published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

West Suffolk CCG had the highest rate of early cancer diagnosis, followed by Solihull CCG (60%), Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG (59%), Bedfordshire CCG (59%) and West Norfolk CCG (58%). Lincolnshire West CCG had the lowest.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said it was important to investigate why these variations exist, pointing to deprivation and access to services as possible causes.

GPonline has previously reported that many areas have problems with access to scans, with some seeing urgent referrals downgraded in an attempt to curb demand.

Leading cancer charities have warned that delaying scans and restricting access was potentially putting patients at risk by denying earlier diagnosis.

Early diagnosis

Cancer Research UK policy manager Sara Bainbridge said earlier this year: ‘The two-week urgent referral route for suspected cancer – and ensuring GPs can send people directly for certain diagnostic tests – are crucial ways to diagnose patients earlier, when they’re more likely to survive.

‘GPs need the support and systems in place so they can use the NICE referral guidelines, helping more patients receive a swift diagnosis and a better chance of surviving cancer. Diagnostic capacity is key and we need to see how the NHS will use the extra investment that has already been pledged.’

Dr Vautrey said: ‘There could be a whole variety of factors interplaying, not least the demographics of the population themselves or the availability of wider services. And I think the role of general practice within this could actually be limited and it may be much wider factors that cause that variation.

‘It’s difficult to know whether access to cancer services, diagnostics in the community and availability of scans have any impact. We need to look at specific areas in a lot more detail to really know what it was that had the clearest link between cancer diagnosis and other factors in that area.

‘There’s a whole variety of things that could have an impact on cancer. If you're in an area of significant deprivation, often people have other priorities and concerns rather than being alerted to some of the very early signs of cancer and so may themselves present a little bit later than in areas where there's less deprivation.’

Photo: iStock

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