New figures on diagnosis show improvement
The National Cancer Intelligence Network has released new figures on how cancer patients are being diagnosed, with some good news for brain tumours and cancer more generally. The percentage of brain tumours diagnosed through emergency admissions, when the cancer is very likely to be at a late and incurable stage, fell from 59% in 2012 to 53% in 2013. This is a significant improvement and one that needs to be built on.
Overall, the proportion of cancers diagnosed as an emergency at hospital has decreased and the number of cancers diagnosed through urgent GP referral with a suspicion of cancer has increased. Early diagnosis of a cancer can be the difference between life and death in so many cases. Catching a cancer early, before a tumour has grown and spread, allows for both a greater option of treatment and a higher success rate of treatment. If a cancer is diagnosed in an emergency setting the overwhelming chance is that it is has developed to the stage where treatment that could have been used to try and cure a smaller, less developed tumour, simply won’t work. It is positive, therefore, to see the increase in GP referrals.
A significant part of the Government’s cancer strategy over the last decade, and in particular in the recent Independent Taskforce Report, has focused on early diagnosis and ensuring GPs are diagnosing and referring cancer earlier. The statistics released this week show that progress has been made between 2006 and 2013, with a fall from 1 in 4 of all cancers diagnosed in an emergency setting rather than 1 in 5. This progress has been seen in brain tumours as well. In 2006, 64% of brain tumours were diagnosed in emergency settings, while in 2013 this figure had improved by 11% to just over 1 in 2.
Clearly these improvements are welcome but the difference between the average cancer patient’s diagnosis and a brain tumour patient’s is still shocking. We are very concerned that, while improvements have been made, over half of all patients are still being denied a chance at any curative treatment because of how late they are diagnosed. We are also concerned at the current lack of treatment options for brain tumour patients. Given the lack of research into brain tumours, once a brain tumour has been diagnosed many do not live beyond 1-5 years. We urge the Government to do more to encourage research funding into brain tumours to improve the chance of survival.