GP cancer visits to rise as DH extends awareness campaign

The DH will relaunch a national bowel cancer awareness campaign this summer encouraging patients with symptoms to visit their GP, despite evidence that pilots of the campaign failed to detect more cases.

Paul Burstow MP unveils the 'Be Clear on Cancer' campaign, which started in January this year (Photograph: DH)
Paul Burstow MP unveils the 'Be Clear on Cancer' campaign, which started in January this year (Photograph: DH)

A four-week national advertisement campaign for bowel cancer will run from 28 August as part of continuing efforts to improve early diagnosis. Regional campaigns for breast and ovarian cancers will follow in early 2013.

The DH insisted that the extra visits to GPs during upcoming campaigns would be ‘quite manageable’ in primary care.

But evidence from past campaigns suggests referrals could result in ‘significant pressure’ on secondary care, it said. The department has urged commissioners to plan for additional demand.

It follows the ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign that ran for nine weeks from January this year. The DH revealed that this led to an increase in two-week wait referrals from GPs.

A DH report published last month into £9m pilots run in 2010/11 found they had no impact on people’s awareness of common symptoms. Two-week wait referrals from GPs and subsequent diagnoses increased by the same amount in areas with active campaigns as control areas.

National cancer czar Professor Mike Richards revealed the plans in a letter to PCT and hospital chief executives.

He said: 'It has always been recognised that we need sustained effort to deliver earlier diagnosis of cancer and we want to keep running these campaigns so the key messages become well embedded.'

Professor Richards said the awareness campaign in early 2012 led to a surge in two-week wait referrals. Urgent referrals for suspected colorectal cancer in some areas jumped 50% compared with non-participating regions. The effect was muted in others: in the South West, a pilot region, referrals rose by just 5.5%.

Professor Richards said there had been ‘no overall impact’ on long waits for colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy among symptomatic patients.

The upcoming August campaign will be ‘low weight’ and use less TV advertising than the January campaign.

In the following months, the DH plans to continue the awareness campaign but vary its methods to ‘test different campaign approaches’.

Some areas will see paid-for advertising continuing while others will employ community action alone. Results between the areas will be compared for effectiveness.

From January to March 2013, the DH will run regional pilots for blood in urine (kidney and bladder cancer) and breast cancer symptoms in women over 70. It will also test local campaigns for ovarian cancer, and how to spot a 'constellation' of symptoms for various cancers.

The government sees awareness campaigns as crucial to its ambition to save an extra 5,000 lives per year in England by improving early diagnosis of cancer.

Details of upcoming campaigns

Bowel cancer regional campaigns: September 2012-March 2013

  • Community-based action: Lancashire, South Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Merseyside, North East London, North Central London
  • TV advertisement: Yorkshire and Humber, North Trent

Ovarian Cancer regional campaigns: January-March 2013

  • No TV: East Anglia, Essex, Thames Valley, Yorkshire and Humber

Constellation campaign: January-March 2013

  • No TV: North east London, North central London, Lancashire, South Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Central South Coast

Breast cancer 70+: January-March 2013

  • Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Arden, Birmingham, Greater Midlands, North Trent

Blood in urine - kidney and bladder cancer: January-March 2013

  • TV: North of England

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