Late stage cancer diagnosis costly

NEARLY half (46 per cent) of cancers in England are diagnosed at an advanced stage when they are harder to treat successfully, according to analysis published by Cancer Research UK.

In a report by Incisive Health commissioned by Cancer Research UK it is estimated that if the best national levels of early diagnosis were delivered across the country, an extra 5,000 cancer patients would be alive five years after diagnosis.

Improved diagnosis in four types of cancer alone could save the NHS over £44m in treatment costs and benefit over 11,000 patients each year. Extrapolating this to all types of cancer would imply an annual saving of nearly £210m, while helping to improve the survival prospects for more than 52,000 patients.

The report found that staging at diagnosis varies greatly between different cancers. Lung cancer was diagnosed at an early stage in less than a quarter of patients compared to four-fifths of breast cancers.

The reports estimates that the cost of treating late stage colon, rectal, lung and ovarian cancer is nearly two and a half times the amount for early stage treatment. Treating colon cancer at its earliest stage costs £3,373 compared to £12,519 when treated at its latest stage. For ovarian cancer the cost rises from £5,328 to £15,081.

Wide variation exists across England in the proportion of patients who are diagnosed with cancer at an early stage. There is a nearly a threefold variation in patients diagnosed early with bowel cancer when comparing highest and lowest performing areas. In lung cancer the variation is nearly fourfold and for ovarian cancer it is nearly fivefold.

The report estimates that, without action to reduce late diagnosis, treatment costs for the four cancers will soar by approximately £165 million over the next decade, as the number of cancer cases rises due to an ageing population.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “This report shows yet again why we must do more to ensure patients begin treatment as early as possible, so that we improve cancer survival in this country. It provides a compelling case for substantial investment in efforts to achieve earlier diagnosis. Not to invest in earlier diagnosis is to fail cancer patients.

“Earlier diagnosis saves lives and it could save critical NHS funds – and in the face of an overstretched NHS and a projected growing number of cancers diagnosed in the years ahead, we need to do everything we can to ensure that all patients have access to the best treatment as early as possible."

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Saving lives, averting costs