Doctors ‘need help’ with increasing number of cancer patients

In collaboration with the Press Association

GPs are ill-prepared to cope with the growing demand for cancer care, a new report warns.

"The sheer number of people affected and their longer term health needs means that cancer can no longer be managed only in hospital" - Jodie Moffat, Cancer Research UK

Demand for such care in high-income countries is predicted to double over the next 15 years, according to a new report in The Lancet Oncology. But as it stands, some doctors don’t have the skills or tools needed to help increasing patient numbers.

“Our challenge is how to prepare primary care doctors as the cornerstone in prevention, early detection, survivorship, and palliative care,” said lead author Professor Greg Rubin, ahead of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) annual congress starting on October 1 in Glasgow.

Half of all people diagnosed with cancer now live for at least 10 years after diagnosis, up from a quarter in the 1970s. By 2030, the number of cancer survivors in the UK is predicted to double from two million to four million.

With this in mind, the report has called for far more effective integration between primary and specialist (hospital) care. Evidence from the US has shown that long-term cancer survivors who see both primary care doctors and oncologists are more likely to receive the full complement of care they need.

Jodie Moffat, Cancer Research UK’s head of early diagnosis, said: “This report highlights a fundamental shift in how we think about cancer care. One in two people are now likely to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, so the sheer number of people affected and their longer term health needs means that cancer can no longer be managed only in hospital.

“GPs have an ever increasing role in preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer. They will not only have to support people with a cancer diagnosis, but also encourage healthy lifestyles to reduce cancer risk. It’s essential GPs get the training, support and resource they need for all aspects of their expanded role in cancer care from easy access to diagnostic tests to caring for patients throughout their cancer journey.”

Around 90 per cent of people with cancer first present symptoms in primary care. The report calls for doctors to have access to better technology and electronic decision support to help them more confidently diagnose cancer.

It also wants improved education and support for doctors; new models of shared care between primary care and oncology units; greater communication with specialists and easy referral back to hospital care; as well as robust monitoring systems for detecting recurrence and the adverse effects of treatments.

“Primary care doctors are expert generalists who provide continuous and comprehensive care to patients and their families, and do this in the context of the patient’s social and domestic circumstances,” added Professor Rubin. “As such they have much to offer people with cancer, and should be enabled to do so.”

References

  • Rubin, G., et al. (2015). The expanding role of primary care in cancer control The Lancet Oncology, 16 (12), 1231-1272 DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(15)00205-3