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Undiagnosed cancers that become emergencies

Friday September 21st, 2012

Tens of thousands of patients with cancer are only being diagnosed when they are rushed as emergencies to hospitals, according to figures published today.

Among cancer patients over the age of 70, as many as 31 per cent are diagnosed through this route, according to the National Cancer Intelligence Network.

This represents 38,300 patients, it says.

Another 20,000 people a year under the age of 70 are diagnosed by this means, it said. In total 24 per cent of all cancer cases are diagnosed through emergency care.

Cancers of the brain, liver and pancreas are most likely to be diagnosed during emergency treatment. This applies to 70 per cent of cancers of the central nervous system and 52 per cent of liver cancers for patients over the age of 70.

Cancers of the breast and skin are most likely to be detected early. Just three per cent of skin cancers become emergencies before diagnosis and five per cent of breast cancer.

The findings are reported in the British Journal of Cancer.

Sara Hiom, of Cancer Research UK, who worked on the research, spoke of an "urgent" need to know why so many cases of cancer in elderly patients are not diagnosed.

She said: "It may be that older people are reluctant to bother their doctor with possible cancer symptoms, or they could be slipping through the net as symptoms may be dismissed as the usual aches and pains or old age, or their GP could have referred them but their condition has progressed so rapidly that they end up as an emergency in hospital."

Network head Chris Carrigan said: "These exciting data are the first set of detailed analysis in the world which give us an idea of the journey patients went on in being diagnosed with cancer.  Producing new intelligence such as this, and making the data available for others to use and understand, is a key priority for the partners in the NCIN."

L Elliss-Brookes, S McPhail, A Ives, M Greenslade, J Shelton, S Hiom and M Richards Routes to diagnosis for cancer – determining the patient journey using multiple routine data set. British Journal of Cancer September 21 2012 doi:10.1038/bjc.2012.408

Tags: A&E | Cancer | Internal Medicine | NHS | UK News

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