Welsh cancer report calls for more to be done to tackle late stage diagnosis

Cancer Research UK

Too many people in Wales are being diagnosed with cancer at a late stage, according to a new report.

While the Welsh government's 2016 Cancer Annual Report highlights some national improvements, including increasing survival, it identifies a handful of problem areas.

“The next steps must include ambitious action to increase diagnostic capacity so the NHS in Wales can deliver tests on time" – Sara Bainbridge, Cancer Research UK

The report states that late diagnosis, addressing lifestyle risks for cancer and improving access to tests and treatment times must all be tackled.

Sara Bainbridge, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, welcomed the commitment of the Welsh government and NHS Wales to improve cancer services, as well as the focus placed on prevention, diagnosis and treatment. 

“We’re pleased to see the spending allocations for diagnosis and treatment – as this is crucial to ensure more people survive their cancer,” she said.    

“The next steps must include ambitious action to increase diagnostic capacity so the NHS in Wales can deliver tests on time for people who might have cancer.” 

The report outlines changes being piloted to develop a new way to diagnose patients who see their GP with non-specific symptoms that may be cancer, and to improve diagnostic services. 

It also calls for patients to have the stage of their cancer recorded at diagnosis, as a way of measuring how well services are performing with regards to early diagnosis.

Health secretary Vaughan Gething said: “We must detect more cancers at earlier stages, so that patients can get the most benefit from the treatments available.” 

A high proportion of patients in Wales see their cancers diagnosed at a late stage, leading to worse survival, more challenging treatment and a worse quality of life after treatment.

Some of the reasons given for late diagnosis were lack of public awareness of symptoms and lack of willingness to bother GPs, leading to diagnosis often occurring as an emergency, for example via A&E.

The report outlines areas for improvement, including support to raise awareness of cancer symptoms and better access to GP services. 

Improvements are also needed in how GPs recognise symptoms and refer patients with suspected cancer, in particular lung cancer, where survival remains lower than other parts of Europe.