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Software to help GPs detect cancer

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The NHS cancer lead has announced that patients will be assessed for their risk of cancer using a specially designed computer programme.

Professor Mike Richards, the Department of Health’s National Cancer Director, said the tool will be available within five years to every family doctor.

It will aid GPs in their diagnosis, particularly when considering if to send patients for urgent tests.

Prof Richards told the Guardian the programme could lead to “better decision-making by GPs,” but said doctors would still have the authority to decide whether to refer a patient.

He said the diagnostic tool could also help GPs detect cancer in its early stages.

Prof Richards said it would take “a remarkable human brain” to retain all the information needed about symptoms of different cancers as well as for all the other ailments GPs have to identify and added: “Why not get computers to support it?”

“The benefit of this will be that GPs will know who should be investigated and who shouldn’t,” he said.

“It will also help patients to know that whether they are being reassured, or referred, or getting a test, that is the right thing to do.”

The computer would assess risk by taking into account a patient’s age, weight and any symptoms like rectal bleeding or constant fatigue.

If risk was considered to be above a certain level, the person could be referred to hospital for urgent exploratory tests within two weeks.

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