GPs face a rise in patient visits for suspected cancer after the Department of Health announced plans to extend a national bowel cancer awareness campaign, despite pilots showing it was unlikely to have any impact on referrals or diagnoses.
The campaign will run for a month from 28 August and will be extended in targeted regions across the country, as part of the DH's efforts to save an estimated 5,000 lives per year through early screening and diagnosis.
It will be followed by regional campaigns for breast, kidney, bladder and ovarian cancer to be launched in 2013.
Patients will be taught how to spot a ‘constellation' of symptoms for various cancers and encouraged to visit their GP immediately if any symptoms present.
The DH said the extra surgery appointments the campaign would incur would be ‘quite manageable' for GPs, but commissioners should prepare for the rise in demand as referrals on to secondary care could result in ‘significant pressure'.
The plans were revealed in a letter from Professor Mark Richards, the DH's national cancer director, to all PCT and hospital chief executives.
The move marks an extension of the £9m ‘Be Clear on Cancer' campaign that ran from the end of January to March this year, following pilots carried out in 2010/11.
Earlier this month, Pulse revealed that two-week wait referrals had not significantly increased in areas where the campaign had run in comparison with control areas.
Professor Richards said the2012 bowel cancer awareness campaignled to an increase in two-week wait referrals for suspected colorectal cancer, and that referrals increased by around 50% in areas that had not previously been involved in the pilot campaigns.
The East of England observed a 48% increase in two-week wait referrals for suspected colorectal cancer, but the increase in the South West was only 5.5%. The large majority (80%) of extra referrals were in the 50+ age range.
‘It has always been recognised that we need sustained effort to deliver earlier diagnosis of cancer, and we want to keep running these campaigns so the key messages become well embedded,' Professor Richards said.
He added that the August bowel cancer awareness campaign will be ‘low weight' and use less TV advertising than the previous stage of the campaign.
Community engagement work run by the relevant cancer networks will also be funded so the DH can test the impact of grassroots awareness raising rather than paid-for advertising.
Details of upcoming campaigns
Bowel cancer national campaign: 28 August to 28 September
Bowel cancer regional campaigns: September 2012 to March 2013
- Community-based campaigns will run in Lancashire, South Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Merseyside, north-east London and north London
- TV advertisements will run in Yorkshire and Humber and North Trent
Ovarian cancer regional campaigns: January to March 2013
- A media-based campaign (featuring no TV advertising) will run in East Anglia, Essex, Thames Valley and Yorkshire and Humber
‘Constellation of cancer symptoms' campaign: January to March 2013
- Community-based campaigns and media campaigns will run in Lancashire, South Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and the Central South Coast region
- A media-based campaign (featuring no TV advertising) will run in north-east London and north London
Breast cancer for women aged 70+: January to March 2013
- TV advertisements will run in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Arden, Birmingham, Greater Midlands and North Trent
Blood in urine – kidney and bladder cancer: January to March 2013
- TV advertisements will run in the North of England