Why is early diagnosis important?

Finding and treating cancer at an early stage can save lives.

Cancer that’s diagnosed at an early stage, before it’s had the chance to get too big or spread is more likely to be treated successfully. If the cancer has spread, treatment becomes more difficult, and generally a person’s chances of surviving are much lower.

How early diagnosis can improve survival

Below are some examples of how spotting cancer early can make a real difference:

Bowel cancer

More than 9 in 10 bowel cancer patients will survive the disease for more than 5 years if diagnosed at the earliest stage [1].

Breast cancer

More than 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage survive their disease for at least 5 years compared to around 15% for women diagnosed with the most advanced stage of disease [2].

Ovarian cancer

More than 90% of women diagnosed with the earliest stage ovarian cancer survive their disease for at least 5 years compared to around 5% for women diagnosed with the most advanced stage of disease [3].

Lung cancer

Around 70% of lung cancer patients will survive for at least a year if diagnosed at the earliest stage compared to around 15% for people diagnosed with the most advanced stage of disease [4].

Early diagnosis can increase chances of survival. But improving survival rates is not just down to earlier diagnosis – ensuring patients receive the most effective and appropriate treatment for them is also an important part of the jigsaw.

Why are some cancers diagnosed late?

There are many possible causes of late diagnosis. Around 1 in 4 of cancers in the UK are diagnosed through emergency admission to hospital [5]. Most patients diagnosed in this way have lower chances of survival compared to other patients.

There can be a number of reasons for delays in cancer diagnosis, for example:

  • Low awareness of cancer signs and symptoms can mean that people don’t see the GP as soon as they might which could delay a diagnosis [6].
  • Some people might delay because they’re worried about what the doctor might find or they don’t want to waste the doctor’s time [7].
  • There can be delays in GPs referring patients on for tests or treatment.
  • Delays can occur in getting an appointment at the hospital.

But we can all do our bit to help spot cancer early by being aware of any changes in our bodies and reporting them promptly to the GP.

References

1. Cancer Research UK. Bowel cancer survival statistics. 2015. View resource

2. Cancer Research UK. Breast cancer survival statistics. 2015. View resource

3. Cancer Research UK. Ovarian cancer survival statistics. 2015. View resource

4. Cancer Research UK. Lung cancer survival statistics. 2015. View resource

5. NCIN. Routes to Diagnosis. 2010. View resource

6. Robb K, Stubbings S, Ramirez A, et al. Public awareness of cancer in Britain: a population-based survey of adults. British journal of cancer. 2009;101 Suppl (S2):S18–23. View resource

7. NAEDI. Public awareness of cancer in Britain: A Report for the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative. 2008. View resource

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