A quarter of patients diagnosed with cancer at Accident and Emergency departments in London will die within just two months according to new research.
Researchers based at London Cancer analysed almost 1,000 cases where patients were diagnosed with cancer at 12 A&E departments across London and Essex in 2013.
The study revealed that the average survival period among the cases examined was less than six months and only 36% of patients survived beyond a year. Half of those aged under 65 died within 14 months of their diagnosis, and among patients aged 65-75, half had died within just three months.
Patients diagnosed in A&E departments tend to have more advanced cancers which may be significantly harder to treat. The most common cancers diagnosed in A&E include those of the lung, bowel, liver and pancreas, where symptoms are often difficult to spot. The study also, however, revealed that cases of breast cancer, which should normally be identified through screening or the presence of lumps, were not diagnosed until the patients attended A&E.
An estimated one in four of the 330,000 patients who develop cancer each year in the UK are unaware they have the disease until their symptoms become so serious that they need to attend A&E. Sadly, by this stage, it is often too late as tumours may well have spread to such an extent that nothing can be done to save the patient.
According to Kathy Pritchard-Jones, of the London Cancer network, many such patients will have struggled to convince GPs that they are seriously ill, while others will have had their treatment delayed due to having to remain on waiting lists for specialist tests.
“These shocking figures hammer home what we already know: early diagnosis can make a huge difference in your chances of surviving cancer,” said Professor Pritchard-Jones. “We need to find ways to diagnose patients earlier, and through managed pathways. This is crucial to improving the UK’s cancer survival to the standard of comparable countries.”
Although cancer survival rates have doubled over the last 40 years, UK survival rates are still at a level where many other European countries stood 10 years ago. Why UK cancer survival rates continue to lag behind the rest of Europe may be down to a number of factors.
There is evidence to suggest many patients in the UK consult their doctor much later than they ought to as they often feel embarrassed about certain issues, for example, blood in their bowel movement – a key symptom of bowel cancer, with many worried about being labelled a ‘nuisance’ for ‘bothering’ their doctor. This is often the case with older patients who may already be living with ‘aches and pains’ which they dismiss as simply part of the aging process until it is too late. In addition, far too many potential cancer symptoms are either dismissed by doctors or missed by patients who aren’t always familiar with signs that could denote the disease.
Our clinical negligence solicitors deal with a huge number of delayed or misdiagnosed cancer cases due to errors such as doctors failing to consider cancer as a possible diagnosis and make early referrals as a result. Other common errors we see repeatedly include simply failing to take account of a patient’s symptoms or mistakes made in interpreting biopsies, scans and x-rays. The most common cases where wholly preventable errors such as these have led to clients suffering harm involve breast, bowel, melanoma and cervical cancer.
The findings of this study illustrate just how important it is that patients with cancer are diagnosed early. Too many patients are dying needlessly in the UK every year and it is paramount that those diagnosed with the disease have early access to treatment to ensure they have the best possible chances of survival.
Rabia Ibrahim is a medical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon in London.
Our clinical negligence solicitors can advise on whether you may have a claim for delayed diagnosis of cancer. If you or a family member were diagnosed with cancer late because the symptoms were missed by a medical professional, please call us for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.