Doctors are failing cancer patients “far too often” by not spotting other medical problems caused by their treatment, according to a leading expert on the disease.
Professor Jane Maher, the medical director of Macmillan Cancer Support, said she feared 500,000 people’s symptoms for conditions including osteoporosis and heart disease are being missed by GPs.
She told The Guardian that their lack of knowledge about the long-term side-effects of cancer drugs and a lack of communication with hospitals were to blame.
“GPs and oncologists are failing cancer patients far too often,” said Prof Maher.
“By not sharing vital information and recording clearly on the patients’ medical records they are putting a significant number of cancer patients at risk of having their work, health, relationships and home lives unnecessarily spoiled by long-term side-effects of their treatment.”
The National Cancer Survivorship Initiative (NCSI) estimates that 20%-25% of those diagnosed with cancer go on experience a consequence of their treatment which affects their health or quality of life.
Prof Maher added: “Based on the NCSI work looking into consequences of cancer treatment, I fear that up to 500,000 people’s symptoms are being missed by GPs.
“GPs need to recognise that people who have had cancer may have health problems related to their treatment, and GPs are the best people to pick these up. But that doesn’t happen nearly enough at the moment.”
Professor Sir Mike Richards, the government’s national cancer director, said it was essential that GPs and oncologists worked together to ensure patients get the best possible care.
The fact that cancer survival rates are improving year on year with a growing number of long-term survivors made it more important, he added.
Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners said doctors needed help with the issue.
Admitting that GPs were generally unaware of the risks associated with specific treatments, she said: “If Prof Maher and the NHS tell us exactly what cancer someone has had, and what treatment, and what the possible risks are of that, and in a way that’s easy to understand, we will do things better.”