Bowel cancer red flags missed

ONE in five bowel cancer patients diagnosed after an emergency presentation had at least one "red flag" symptom in the year leading up to their diagnosis in a study funded by Cancer Research UK.

The study published in the British Journal of Cancer found that 17.5 per cent of colon cancer patients and 23 per cent of rectal cancer patients diagnosed as an emergency had red flag symptoms, indicating there could have been opportunities to pick up the disease earlier.

Red flag symptoms were much more commonly found in patients who were diagnosed via non-emergency routes.

The study at University College London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine looked at National Cancer Registry data that was linked to GP data for 1,606 patients across more than 200 GP practices. The research focused on patient data for the five years leading up to the cancer diagnosis.

Cristina Renzi, lead researcher and Cancer Research UK scientist at University College London, said: "We know that patients diagnosed with cancer after emergency presentations don’t do as well as patients who are diagnosed by their doctor through non-emergency routes. This study shows that most patients – who are picked up through the emergency route - can be harder to diagnose as they often don’t show typical bowel cancer symptoms. However, in most cases they visit their doctor for various reasons multiple times during the months leading up to their diagnosis, which could represent opportunities to diagnose the cancer earlier.

"It’s important to find ways to ensure these patients can be diagnosed at an early stage. And this study highlights the need to support GPs and give them the tools to diagnose and refer patients promptly when they feel it’s necessary."

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