A study looking at why some cancers are diagnosed after an emergency admission to hospital

Cancer type:

All cancer types





This study was done to learn more about how and why cancer is sometimes diagnosed after people are admitted to hospital as an emergency.

More about this trial

The number of people diagnosed in A&E is particularly high in London and researchers wanted to understand more about why this happens.

In this small study, they interviewed people who had been diagnosed with cancer after going into hospital as an emergency. They wanted to find out more about their experiences leading up to their diagnosis and if they had seen their GP.

The researchers hoped that the information they collected could help to develop cancer services in the future.

Summary of results

The study team found that most people diagnosed at hospital as an emergency had already visited their GP several times with symptoms.

The researchers interviewed 27 people.  They had been diagnosed with a number of different cancer types such as bowel cancer or lung cancer. Their ages ranged from 18 to 92.

The researchers asked what had led them to go to hospital as an emergency and about their healthcare experiences. Of the 27 people

  • 4 had worrying symptoms such as confusion or a swollen leg - 2 were sent by the GP to hospital straight away and 2 were taken by ambulance
  • 23 had been to see their GP several times about their symptoms – they went to hospital as an emergency because they suddenly felt unwell or they were sent by the GP or another health care professional

The study team looked at these 23 people to find out more about their experiences. The main findings were that:

  • 15 had symptoms, that to begin with, did not meet the criteria for an urgent referral or test
  • 11 had symptoms that possibly did fit the criteria for an urgent referral or test yet were missed
  • some delays might have been prevented if people had gone straight to GP when their symptoms first got worse rather than waiting before seeing them again –sometimes people didn’t know if they should see the GP straight away if they had already had their symptoms diagnosed as another condition
  • some people thought going to hospital as an emergency was a quick way to get tests done
  • some GP’s or health care professionals told people to go straight to hospital as they were very worried and wanted tests done quickly – but sometimes the tests weren’t done

Based on the above, the study team made some recommendations to help prevent possible delays in diagnosis. These include:

  • improving quick access to tests - GP’s  need to be able to communicate directly with the hospital if they refer someone
  • encouraging patients to return to their GP as soon as possible if symptoms suddenly get worse or they are worried about their symptoms
  • doctors must make sure that if they are uncertain about what is causing the symptoms the patient understands this and so knows the importance of not ignoring the symptoms or assuming that because they have seen a doctor they’re ok.

The study team concluded that the experiences of people being diagnosed at hospital as an emergency were quite different to the usual way people with cancer are diagnosed.

We have based this summary on information from the research team. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team who did the research. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr Georgia Black

Supported by

Department of Health
London Cancer
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
University College London (UCL)

If you have questions about the trial please contact our cancer information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Charlie took part in a trial to try new treatments

A picture of Charlie

“I think it’s really important that people keep signing up to these type of trials to push research forward.”

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