Cancer warning signs being missed by patients

PATIENTS in the east of England are routinely missing early warning signs of cancer and face a greater likelihood of dying from the disease as a result, it has emerged.

Each year about 28,700 people are diagnosed with cancer in the East of England, a disease which claims 14,300 lives annually in the region.

However, a new report published today reveals many of these cancer deaths are avoidable if the illness was caught at an earlier stage.

The Delay Kills document from Cancer Research showed three quarters of those asked to list possible warning signs and symptoms of cancer failed to mention either coughing or problems with bowels or bladder.

It revealed how about 75 per cent of the people surveyed in the eastern region failed to list bleeding and only one quarter mentioned weight loss as a common indicator of cancer.

It also showed how reluctant people were at flagging up concerns - with 30 per cent admitting they would delay seeing a GP for fear of what they might learn and one in five stating they feared wasting the doctor’s time.

In Essex, cancer experts currently are carrying out a review designed to pinpoint ‘obstacles’ preventing patients coming forward earlier for diagnosis and treatment.

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Sue Maughn, director of the Essex Cancer Network, said last night: “Early diagnosis is key to achieving better outcomes for people with cancer. The Essex Cancer Network (ECN) recognises that there are several reasons for delayed diagnosis.

“The ECN has a group who works entirely on this important aspect of its work. We know that general awareness of cancer symptoms in the general population is low, that people delay going to their doctor because they fear the results and also don’t want to waste the GP’s time.

“In 2011 the ECN did an Essex wide lung cancer awareness campaign promoting possible signs of a lung cancer to raise awareness amongst the population of Essex. This was endorsed by producing additional guidance for GP’s. As a result an increased number of people were referred to the hospitals by their GP’s.

“The ECN is always looking for opportunities to put the early detection and awareness message across to its local population. We are currently working with 93 local pharmacies spreading the message about symptoms of lung, colorectal and skin cancers. This is also aimed at raising awareness and educating counter assistants and pharmacists to encourage them to speak to a member of the public who may be requesting medication that could mask potential symptoms.

“Working with our local GP community is also key to earlier diagnosis and we have recently developed new urgent referral guidelines which are now available in all practices to support GP’s in making a referral.

“We are also conducting a review to understand why some patients present late with severe symptoms requiring emergency admission to hospital. If we can understand where the obstacles are we can streamline the process. Awareness of the symptoms of early cancer is vital if we are to improve survival in this country.”

Jane Redman, of Cancer Research UK, said: “If patients are diagnosed when cancer is still in its early stages, before it has had a chance to spread to other parts of the body, treatment is more likely to be successful.

In response to the research, which was funded by Tesco, the supermarket chain plans to raise �10 million to fund 32 early diagnosis research projects across the UK - including one at Cambridge.