Guest Opinion: Dr Anant Sachdev - Campaign will improve cancer diagnosis

The next stage in the Public Health England (PHE) Be Clear on Cancer campaign is being launched. The aim is to increase earlier diagnosis of bladder and kidney cancers. With a focus on blood in urine as a symptom of both cancers, the campaign urges people to visit their GP if they notice it, even 'just the once'.

The need to raise awareness of this symptom is important: visible haematuria is a key symptom in more than 80% of bladder cancers and more than half of kidney cancers, yet awareness of these symptoms is low. When asked to name signs and symptoms of cancer, only 33% of people mention unexplained bleeding.

Early diagnosis is also essential: about 16,600 people are diagnosed with kidney or bladder cancer each year; more than 7,500 die of the disease.

When diagnosed at the earliest stage, one-year survival for kidney and bladder cancers is 92-97%, but at a late stage, it drops to 25-34%. If England's survival rates matched the best in Europe, an extra 1,000 deaths could be avoided each year.

As with all Be Clear on Cancer campaigns, the messaging has been rigorously tested, with GPs as well as the public. GPs believed the advertising would motivate those who needed to see their doctor, but wouldn't cause alarm.

Results to date have been encouraging. In the regional pilot early this year, the percentage of respondents saying they would see the GP the same day if they noticed any changes in their urine or their bladder habits increased from 18% to 27%.

In three local pilot schemes in 2012, there was a 5.3% increase in the number of bladder or kidney cancers diagnosed following a two-week wait urgent referral for suspected urological cancer.

GPs are likely to want to know what impact the campaign will have on presentations. It is difficult to predict, but the national bowel cancer campaign in January to March 2012 led to approximately one additional patient with relevant symptoms per practice every two weeks.

Be Clear on Cancer is proving successful at driving up diagnoses and I'm very pleased to be part of this push that will ultimately save lives.

  • Dr Anant Sachdev is a GP in Berkshire and features in the advertising for the PHE 'Blood in Pee' campaign.

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