The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has announced today (20 November 2014) that it is updating its guidance to GPs on cancer symptoms, in order to speed up diagnosis.
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research welcomes the guidance and its ‘symptom-based approach’ that clearly set out which symptoms are warning signs for certain cancers and provides clear recommendations for tests and referral to specialist services.
The introduction of ‘safety netting’ is particularly pleasing – guidance on how and when to review people with any symptoms associated with an increased risk of cancer who do not meet the standard criteria for referral, ensuring a possible cancer is not missed. There are also guidelines on how best to inform, reassure and support patients with suspected cancer.
One in four people eventually diagnosed with cancer in England have to visit their doctor at least three times before being referred to hospital for tests. The National Cancer Patient Experience Survey has shown that in cases of blood cancer, this proportion of patients rises to over one in three. Figures from the National Cancer Intelligence Network have also shown that over half of patients with acute leukaemias, over one in three myeloma patients and over one in four non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients will be diagnosed through emergency routes.
Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “Around 38,000 people will develop a blood cancer or related blood disorder each year in the UK. Currently many will struggle to get a quick and accurate diagnosis, which can have an impact on their chances of survival. Too many patients are being diagnosed as an emergency or need multiple visits to their GP before being referred to a specialist.
"The symptoms for many blood cancers are quite generic and may be passed off for common infections, bumps and bruises of youth, or elderly aches and pains. We hope NICE’s new guidelines will be an important step in raising much needed awareness among GPs about the sets of symptoms to look out for. Most blood cancers are relatively rare and possible cases can be hard to spot for non-specialists. But unlike many other cancers, for blood cancers like leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma, a simple blood or lymph test can usually flag up whether there is cause for concern.
“Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research has carried out and supported extensive research into the real-world symptoms of blood cancer, which we know can conflict with current GP guidelines, as well as the problems that patients face in obtaining a diagnosis. We welcome the opportunity to share this unrivalled knowledge in the development of these guidelines.”
The draft updated guidance for the recognition and management of suspected cancer is available here.