Diagnosis Delays Prompts Need for Improved Cancer Tools

Patient who make multiple trips to their general practitioner before getting a diagnosis are more likely to respond negatively to other aspects of their care.

Patient who make multiple trips to their general practitioner before getting a diagnosis are more likely to respond negatively to other aspects of their care.

A delayed diagnosis for a cancer patient can lead to dissatisfaction with overall care, a recent study found.

Research has shown that if a cancer patient has to make 3 or more trips to their general practitioner (GP) before getting a diagnosis, they are more likely to respond negatively to other aspects of their care.

The Cancer Research UK scientists at University College London (UCL) and the University of Cambridge conducted the study, surveying over 70,000 cancer patients, 60,000 of which were diagnosed through their GP.

Of these 60,000 patients, 13,300 (23%) made 3 or more separate trips before getting their diagnosis. Cancer diagnoses can be difficult, as symptoms can be similar to other diseases. Tools are inaccurate, difficult to use, and do not produce quick results, according to the study, which shows the need for greater advances in cancer diagnosis technology.

"It's important we now step up efforts to ensure potential cancer symptoms can be investigated promptly, such as through the new NICE referral guidelines launched last month to give GPs more freedom to quickly refer patients with worrying symptoms," said Dr. Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK's GP expert. "This will hopefully contribute to improving the patient experience, one of the six strategic priorities recommended by the UK's Cancer Task Force last week."

There was a significant difference in satisfaction of care between those who were diagnosed with three or more visits, and those diagnosed within two. Thirty-nine percent of patients visiting 3 or more times were unhappy with their care, compared with 28%. Eighteen percent were dissatisfied with how they were told they had cancer compared with 14%; while 40% were displeased with how the GP and hospital staff worked together to provide care, compared with 33%.

"This research shows that first impressions go a long way in determining how cancer patients view their experience of cancer treatment,” said study author Dr. Georgios Lyratzopoulos, a Cancer Research UK scientist at UCL. “A negative experience of diagnosis can trigger loss of confidence in their care throughout the cancer journey.

The authors hope that this prompts more urgent action to improve tools and technology in diagnosing cancer, which will improve patients' perceptions of their treatments.

This study was published in the European Journal of Cancer Care.