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Cancer diagnosis breakthroughs held back by struggling services

Saving the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people who are diagnosed with cancer each year has become a national priority.

Every day a new cancer story hits the headlines and we are often bombarded with information about nutrition and lifestyle that claims to help people to avoid the disease. Unfortunately we have also recently heard about hospital waiting time targets being missed for cancer patients and system failures that have put lives at risk.

Generally cancer care in the UK is very good however it is difficult not to be alarmed by the problems services are experiencing. From a personal perspective and as a solicitor in JMW’s specialist medical negligence team I see the impact that delays to cancer treatment can have on lives. A life being avoidably cut short can rob families of precious time, leave them with financial difficulties and cause lasting emotional problems. These are issues we can all relate to and why it is imperative that solutions are urgently sought to address the issues with cancer treatment that have come to light.

We do however continue to hear good news about medical breakthroughs that could potentially aid detection and treatment and therefore save lives. The latest one announced by Cancer Research is that analysis of prescription patterns could help GPs to make decisions about whether to make a hospital referral. Cancer Research says this could be particularly helpful for patients who have ‘non-specific’ symptoms that are not obvious signs of cancer. The absence of red flag symptoms is often the case for cancers with low survival rates such as pancreatic, stomach, ovarian and brain cancer, the charity states.

Researchers will look at anonymous prescription data to see if there are any trends in the medications prescribed to patients before they were diagnosed with cancer. Cancer Research says that small studies in Denmark have already found that many lung cancer patients had a history of being prescribed antibiotics, for example.

It’s a very simple idea but it could be another tool that GPs can use to help diagnose patients as quickly as possible. I am concerned however about the capacity of GPs in the current climate to have the time to look through a patient’s prescription history when they have only ten minutes to spend with them. Currently is seems as though the potential from these breakthroughs is huge but unfortunately the huge pressure on health services may limit their success.

This is extremely sad as it has been estimated that soon one in two of us will receive a cancer diagnosis at some point in our lives. However we should not take away from the fact that these breakthroughs are still very positive steps and just hope that treatment services stop falling behind.


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