Nearly 20,000 more people would have a better chance of surviving cancer over the next two years if diagnosis rates in all English regions were on a par with the best at spotting the disease.
This is the key finding from an analysis by the charity Cancer Research UK, as it prepares to launch a nationwide campaign to boost early diagnosis.
“It’s unacceptable to see such variation across England, with some areas falling far behind others in prompt diagnosis of different cancers”
Figures collated by the charity show significant regional variations in the stages various cancers are identified, with the South West diagnosing more people early on across all types than elsewhere.
If every area matched the region, which incorporates Bath, Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire, then nearly 20,000 more people would be diagnosed sooner over two years, increasing their chances of beating the disease.
Survival rates for the most common types of cancer are known to be more than three times higher when the disease is picked up early.
Analysts looked at data on 10 types of cancer across 25 areas of England in 2012 and 2013 and looked at whether the disease was identified early at stage 1 or 2 or later on at stage 3 or 4.
They found some striking differences between regions. For example, almost half of cancer patients in Merseyside – 49% – are diagnosed late compared to 40% of patients in the South West.
The analysis showed people’s chances of an early diagnosis could also depend on the type of cancer they had, with some regions that were good at spotting certain forms of cancer falling down when it came to diagnosing others.
East Anglia was the best place for detecting bowel cancer at an early stage, yet it was almost the worst for spotting melanoma skin cancer early.
Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said the research showed many people were being diagnosed later than they should be.
“Wherever you live and early diagnosis of cancer will give you more treatment options and a better chance of survival,” she said.
“So it’s unacceptable to see such variation across England, with some areas falling far behind others in prompt diagnosis of different cancers,” she added.
“We need a system where GPs are supported in the diagnosis of cancer and there are the resources to ensure patients can be investigated promptly”
Reasons for late diagnosis included patients not going to their doctor with possible cancer symptoms and GPs failing to spot symptoms or promptly refer people for tests.
Cancer Research UK has previously highlighted the key role nurses can play in aiding early diagnosis, particularly when it comes to encouraging patients to get symptoms checked out.
Meanwhile, the charity is urging the government to implement recommendations set out in the recent cancer strategy for England.
“We need a system where GPs are supported in the diagnosis of cancer and there are the resources to ensure patients can be investigated promptly,” said Ms Hiom.
The charity’s Spot Cancer Sooner campaign launches next week on 2 November.
The 25 regions of England ranked by percentage of late stage diagnoses of all cancers, from lowest to highest
|Regions of England||Percentage of late stage diagnoses (2012-13)||Number of cases late stage diagnoses (2012-13)||Number of staged diagnoses (2012-13)||Number of patients who could have had an early diagnosis if their area equalled the best in England (2012–13)|
|Bath, Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire||40.26||4631||11199||N/A|
|Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly||43.21||6698||15502||457|
|Bristol, North Somerset, Somerset and South Gloucestershire||44.09||5002||11426||402|
|Arden, Herefordshire and Worcestershire||44.1||5042||11372||464|
|Hertfordshire and the South Midlands||44.48||8412||19511||557|
|Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire||44.79||5726||12563||668|
|Leicestershire and Lincolnshire||44.9||4521||9929||523|
|Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral||45||5213||11437||608|
|Birmingham and the Black Country||45.49||7936||17519||883|
|Surrey and Sussex||45.74||8148||17797||983|
|North Yorkshire and Humber||46.22||5606||12305||652|
|Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear||47.15||7067||15176||957|
|Shropshire and Staffordshire||47.23||5785||12277||842|
|Kent and Medway||47.64||5506||11758||772|
|South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw||47.92||4307||8979||692|
|Durham, Darlington and Tees||47.94||4309||8927||715|