Why is early diagnosis important?
• Spotting cancer early increases the chances of survival
• Diagnosing cancer before it has the chance to spread too far means that treatment is more likely to be successful
• You know your body best, so talk to your doctor if something doesn’t seem right.
How early diagnosis can improve survival
Cancer that’s diagnosed at an early stage, when it isn’t too large and hasn’t spread, is more likely to be treated successfully. Below are some examples of how spotting cancer early can make a real difference.
Early diagnosis of bowel cancer
In England, more than 9 in 10 bowel cancer patients survive the disease for 5 years or more, if diagnosed at the earliest stage.
There is a bowel screening programme in the UK for people without symptoms. You don’t need to wait for your screening invitation if you’ve spotted something that’s not normal for you. Take charge and speak to your GP.
Find out more about bowel cancer diagnosis.
Early diagnosis of breast cancer
Almost all women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage survive their disease for at least 5 years.
There is a breast screening programme in the UK. But you don’t need to wait for your screening invitation if you’ve spotted something that’s not normal for you. Take charge and speak to your GP.
Find out more about breast cancer diagnosis.
Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer
More than 9 in 10 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at its earliest stage survive their disease for at least 5 years. This falls to just over 1 in 10 women when ovarian cancer is diagnosed at the most advanced stage.
Find out more about ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Early diagnosis of lung cancer
Almost 9 in 10 of lung cancer patients will survive their disease for at least a year if diagnosed at the earliest stage. This falls to around 1 in 5 people when lung cancer is diagnosed at the most advanced stage.
Find out more about lung cancer diagnosis.
Why are some cancers diagnosed late?
There can be several reasons for delays in cancer diagnosis, for example:
- People might not be aware of possible cancer signs and symptoms, such as feeling tired for no reason, or having a cough that doesn’t go away.
- People might struggle to get an appointment at a convenient time or be worried about taking up doctor time.
- Some people might put off speaking to their GP because of worries about what they might find.
- There can be delays in referring patients for tests, or in getting an appointment at the hospital.
- Not all diagnosis journeys are straightforward. Doctors might investigate other possibilities before making a cancer diagnosis.
When it comes to your body, remember you’re in charge. If you do spot something unusual, don’t put it off. Speak to your doctor, even if it’s something you’ve mentioned before. In most cases it won’t be cancer – but if it is, finding it early can make a real difference.
In the UK, national screening programmes can help diagnose cancers at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful. Cancer screening is for people without symptoms, so if you’ve noticed a change, don’t wait for screening. Tell your doctor as soon as possible.
Office for National Statistics. Cancer survival by stage at diagnosis for England - Office for National Statistics. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/cancersurvivalinengland/stageatdiagnosisandchildhoodpatientsfollowedupto2018 Accessed: January 2021.
NCIN. Routes to Diagnosis. Available at: http://www.ncin.org.uk/publications/data_briefings/routes_to_diagnosis. Accessed: January 2021.
NAEDI. Public awareness of cancer in Britain: A Report for the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative. 2008. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/prevention-and-awar.... Accessed: January 2021.