This site is intended for health professionals only

New GP cancer tools mark a ‘defining moment’ in diagnosis

New computer-based risk tools to help GPs diagnose lung or gastro-oesophageal cancer can successfully flag up patients at substantially raised risk, a major new study has found.

RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada called validation of the new QCancer tools a potentially ‘defining moment' in cancer diagnosis, after researchers found 10% of patients assessed as at highest risk accounted for more than three quarters of new cases of either disease identified in the following two years.

The QCancer algorithms, designed by the University of Nottingham in collaboration with GP software firm EMIS, were validated in a study of 375 GP practices, published this week in the British Journal of General Practice. They aim to speed up diagnosis by red flagging concerning combinations of risk factors including haemoptysis, weight loss, cough, smoking, BMI and family history.

GPs can use the tools for the two cancer types during consultations with individual patients, or to do ‘batch' scans of cancer risk scores among their patient lists.

Dr Gerada, a GP in Kennington, south London, said: ‘Incorporating this simple calculation into the consultation could give GPs a two-year head start on investigation and treatment. These vitally important studies could prove a defining moment for cancer diagnosis. I hope the Department of Health will take heed.'

Study leader Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox, professor of clinical epidemiology and general practice at the University of Nottingham and a GP in the city, said: ‘We hope this new research will help doctors identify patients for earlier referral and investigation.'

Examples published with the study showed that a 50-year-old male non-smoker presenting with symptoms including haemoptysis, loss of appetite and weight loss, and who had recorded a cough and anaemia in the last year, had a 28% estimated risk of having lung cancer that had not been diagnosed.  A 40-year old male who is a heavy smoker who presents with haemoptysis but no other symptoms and no evidence of anaemia had a 0.2% estimated risk.

Improving early cancer diagnosis rates is a key plank of the Government's national cancer strategy launched earlier this year, with the coalition pledging £450m funding to improve early intervention including funding for ‘increased GP access to diagnostic tests'.