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Regional variations in cancer diagnosis highlighted

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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”

Sara Hiom

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.

Cancer Research UK

Sara Hiom

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”

Sara Hiom

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 EnglandPercentage 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 Wiltshire40.26463111199N/A
Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly43.21669815502457
East Anglia43.921065824385841
Bristol, North Somerset, Somerset and South Gloucestershire44.09500211426402
Arden, Herefordshire and Worcestershire44.1504211372464
Hertfordshire and the South Midlands44.48841219511557
Thames Valley44.6242999988278
Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire44.79572612563668
Leicestershire and Lincolnshire44.945219929523
Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral45521311437608
Birmingham and the Black Country45.49793617519883
Surrey and Sussex45.74814817797983
North Yorkshire and Humber46.22560612305652
Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear47.15706715176957
Shropshire and Staffordshire47.23578512277842
West Yorkshire47.577206150331154
Kent and Medway47.64550611758772
South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw47.9243078979692
Durham, Darlington and Tees47.9443098927715
Greater Manchester48.0810323215261657
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