Why is early diagnosis important?

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

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. If cancer spreads, effective 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.

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.

Ovarian cancer

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.

Lung cancer

More than 80% 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.

Why are some cancers diagnosed late?

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 realise that a symptom is important, or that they should see their doctor about it.
  • Some people might put off seeing a doctor for various reasons, including things like being worried about what they might find.
  • There can be delays in GPs referring patients on for tests or treatment.
  • Delays can occur in getting an appointment at the hospital.
When it comes to your health, remember you’re in charge. If you do spot something unusual, tell your doctor. In most cases it won’t be cancer – but if it is, finding it early can make a real difference.

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