Deprivation a major factor in early cancer diagnosis

GP practices in deprived areas are much more likely to have patients diagnosed with cancer for the first time via an emergency hospital admission, according to new research published by the British Journal of Cancer.

Researchers from Imperial College London investigated why nearly a quarter of cancer patients are diagnosed on unplanned admissions to hospital either through A&E or for being in hospital for another reason. They looked at patients across nearly 8,000 GP practices admitted for cancer care between 2007 and 2010 and found that 22 per cent (139,351) were "unplanned".

Waiting times for appointments were found to have an effect with GP practices offering routine appointments within 48 hours less likely to have patients diagnosed with cancer for the first time via an unplanned admission.

Other factors leading to more emergency admissions include practices having lower scores for quality (awarded through the National Quality and Outcomes Framework) and having no GPs who were trained in the UK. But by far the most common factor was social deprivation.

Dr Alex Bottle, study author from Imperial College London, said: "Previous work has shown that nearly a quarter of cancer patients are first diagnosed through an emergency admission to hospital and that these patients have a poorer chance of surviving cancer. We wanted to find out if there was anything about these patients – their age, sex, ethnicity, where they lived, the type of cancer they had that meant they were more likely to first present with cancer as an emergency. We also wanted to see whether there were any characteristics of their GP practice that influenced unplanned cancer admissions.

"Highly deprived areas were associated with an estimated 1,300 or more extra emergency admissions each year, compared with 300 extra for practice factors."