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Blood cancers taking longer to be diagnosed than other cancers

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Updated 30 Jul 2018

A survey of patients treated for cancer on the NHS in England shows that blood cancers are still taking longer to be diagnosed than other types of cancer.

Continued delays to diagnosis

The 2017 Cancer Patient Experience Survey, published today by NHS England, found that over a third (35.6%) of blood cancer patients who visited their GP with symptoms before diagnosis needed to go three times or more before being referred to hospital.

This compares to less than a quarter (23%) of cancer patients overall and represents a slight increase from the 2016 survey, when 35.2% of blood cancer patients needed to see their GP three or more times before being referred to a specialist.

This is the seventh annual Cancer Patient Experience Survey, with 69,000 people treated for cancer in England responding to the questionnaire in 2017. The 59 questions covered all aspects of cancer care, including diagnosis, access to information, quality of care and support provided after treatment.

Phil Reynolds, Policy Manager at Bloodwise, said: “We have known for a long time that people with blood cancer can struggle to get a diagnosis and it often takes longer for GPs to refer them to hospital. People with myeloma in particular have to visit their GPs many more times on average before being sent to a specialist. This can be explained by a number of factors, including a lack of awareness of blood cancer symptoms and the ease of which many symptoms can be confused with more common conditions.

“For some types of blood cancer, early diagnosis can have a significant impact on outcome for patients. This latest Cancer Patient Experience Survey shows that much more still needs to be done to improve care in this area.”

Still more to be done

Being assigned a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) has consistently been shown to have a significantly positive impact on people’s experience of cancer treatment. In this year’s survey 91% of patients with blood cancer (and 91% of cancer patients overall) reported that they had been given the name of a CNS to support them through their treatment. This represents a significant improvement – up from 85% in 2013. Access to a CNS varies greatly by different NHS trusts across the country, however, and there are still thousands of people with blood cancer missing out.

While the survey showed that improvements were being seen in many areas for blood cancer, it also highlighted areas where patients are facing different issues and are having poorer experiences of care than patients with other types of cancer.

People with blood cancer were more likely to experience a degree of confusion around their diagnosis, with just 59% ‘completely understanding’ the explanation they were given of what was wrong with them – compared to 73% of cancer patients in general. Only 46.4% of blood cancer patients said that they were definitely told about the possible long-term side effects of their treatment.

How you can help

We want to make sure that that everyone with suspected blood cancer gets diagnosed as soon as possible, that they have access to the best quality drugs and treatments and receive the highest quality care throughout their journey. Please support our work by getting in touch and telling us about your experience of diagnosis and care. You can email Phil at policy@bloodwise.org.uk.

Read the 2017 Cancer Patient Experience Survey.