According to a January article from The Shields Gazette, nearly 21% of cancer patients from South Tyneside in the UK were first diagnosed without any prior knowledge during emergency admissions to the hospital. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death and chronic health problems in the region around the town far in England’s northeast.
190 out of 919 cancer patients admitted to NHS hospitals in the South Tyneside clinical commissioning group (administrative units responsible for organizing the delivery of NHS services) were there diagnosed with emergency cases of cancer that had previously gone undetected or undiagnosed. Emergency admissions for cancer have much lower rates of survival because patients are much more likely to have later-stage, advanced forms of cancer. The same source estimated that half of cancer patients diagnosed at South Tyneside area hospitals had stage III or IV cancers.
Many cancers can be detected early through screening services. For most cancers, or indeed most illnesses in general, early detection is one of the most important aspects determining a patient’s prognosis (excluding the illness itself). Fiona Osgun with Cancer Research UK noted that symptoms severe enough to cause an emergency admission are usually a sign that the cancer is advanced. Once a cancer has become sufficiently advanced, it can be impossible to treat in a “cure” sense. The longer a cancer goes undetected, the further it can spread to especially vulnerable parts of the body like the brain or spine. After a cancer metastasizes to that degree, palliative treatments are often the only remaining options.
In response to the startling numbers, Cancer Research UK has called for increased public awareness and better training for general practitioners. The organization believes that general practitioners need to get better at identifying cancers early so that fewer people get their first diagnosis during emergency admissions to the hospital. A recent Cancer Patient Experience Survey found that 21% of South Tyneside cancer patients with cancer-related health complaints had to see their general practitioner three or more times before being advised to check into a hospital.
Cancer Research UK wants to challenge the reluctance to refer patients to specialists. The sooner these people are referred to specialists who can identify and treat their cancer, the better their outcomes will be.
What degree of responsibility do you think individuals should have for their cancer screenings? Do you think it should be easier to get screened for cancer? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!