GPs told to test all patients with one or more blood cancer symptoms

GPs should ensure all patients presenting with one or more symptoms of blood cancer are given a blood test, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.

Blood sample (Photo: iStock)
Blood sample (Photo: iStock)

The first report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Blood Cancer - formed in June 2016 - has called for a different approach to tackling and raising awareness of the disease.

Blood cancer patients’ specific needs differ to those who have solid tumours, and general cancer services – along with plans in the Cancer Strategy – are ‘not always effective at meeting their needs’, it said.

One of its priority recommendations to drive earlier diagnosis calls on GPs to ensure they undertake simple blood tests on patients who present with one or more symptoms of blood cancer.

It also suggests implementing screening for patients with low-level symptoms or no symptoms at all – as is already common for other types of cancer.

Improving education for GPs and medical students would also boost their ability to recognise symptoms at an earlier stage, the report recommends.

Blood cancer signs

Some blood cancers are difficult to identify. Myeloma patients routinely report in the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey that it takes at least three GP visits before they receive a diagnosis.

The report says an estimated 240,000 people live with blood cancer in the UK, and someone receives a diagnosis every 14 minutes.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘GPs understand that timely diagnosis of cancer leads to better outcomes for patients – and the latest data shows that over 75% of all cancer cases are referred by GPs after just one or two consultations.

‘This is really good news, particularly considering, as this report recognises with blood cancer, how difficult identifying symptoms can be in primary care given that a GP, on average, will see less than one case of blood cancer every year.

‘Any decision to pursue opportunistic testing must not be undertaken lightly as GPs need a good scientific evidence base before they order any investigations.

‘What is certainly needed for GPs to continue doing a good job at identifying any cancers in a timely way, is better access to diagnostic tools in the community, so that we can appropriately investigate and refer patients as well as we can.’

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