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Emergency cancer diagnoses 'halved'

The proportion of cancer diagnoses after an emergency admission has declined by almost 50%, shows new UK research.

The study

The UK cross-sectional observational study included data for 74,763 randomly selected patients at 457 general practices over a nine year period. The proportion of first-ever diagnoses by emergency admission out of all recorded diagnoses by any route was analysed by patient characteristics, such as age and sex.

The results

Of the 74,763 patients in the sample, 5870 patients had a first-ever recorded diagnosis of cancer during the study. Of these patients, diagnosis by emergency admission was recorded in 13.9% of patients diagnosed with cancer for the first time. Through this route and based  National Cancer Intelligence Network’s cancer categories, the three most common types of cancers were ‘other’ (21.4%), breast (13.6%) and colorectal (11.5%) cancers. The incidence of first-ever recorded diagnosis of cancer by emergency admission during the study period was 2.51 patients per 10,000 person years. The greatest decrease in diagnosis by emergency admissions was in male patients, from 5.77 patients per 10,000 years in 1999 to 2.98 patients per 10,000 years in 2008. Compared with patients ages between 15 and 64 years, the greatest decline in new cancer diagnoses by emergency admission was in patients aged 65+, from 7.10 patients per 10,000 years in 1999 to 3.94 patients per 10,000 person years in 2008.

What this means for GPs

The researchers note that their results ‘contribute to national efforts to improve cancer care in England by increasing understanding of patient groups at high risk of untimely diagnosis’ and advise that ‘attention must also be given to the entire continuum, including better methods of identifying alarm symptoms in primary care, referral for specialist care, and long-term patient outcomes’.

BMC, Online 14 August 2013

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