Self Referral for Cancer Tests?

Feb 2015

Good news – UK cancer survival statistics are improving, but are certainly not as good as they should be! Although 50% of adult cancer patients survive at least 10 years, our statistics still languish significantly below European averages and well below the best performing countries despite the UK having the 6th largest GDP in the world. With half of us now predicted to develop cancer in our lifetime, why is this so and what can be done?

Firstly, far too many men present late when the cancer has already spread and is no longer curable. Late presentation stems from lack of awareness, inappropriate fear or stoicism and, arguably, no screening programmes for prostate cancer or lung cancer for smokers.

A second major cause is variation in types of treatment for the various cancers. Only in the last decade has there been a major reorganisation of care into specialist regional cancer centres. This improves the quality of care but the survival benefit of this takes time to work through into the statistics. Nevertheless there still remains too much variation between best and worst care.

The third cause is cited as variations in the quality of aftercare and follow-up.

Against this background, the strategic direction of the NHS is now towards building up Primary Care, service integration, prevention and early detection. This will place an added burden on GPs, but individual GPs see relatively few new cancer patients and may not be the best at spotting or suspecting underlying cancers when patients first present; current statistics confirm this.

A new independent taskforce will develop a 5 year plan to improve survival rates and Cancer Research UK are working with Macmillan Cancer Support to look at new ideas for speeding up cancer diagnoses. One such idea is “Self Referral” for cancer tests without having to visit a GP first. Already fears have been voiced that this will swamp the system, but for it to work patients need to know what symptoms are important and what are not.

At CHAPS we believe that for men self-awareness of the common risks and diseases is the most important factor, followed by a greater willingness to utilise existing facilities and report early when “red flag” symptoms appear. CHAPS will also continue to campaign for cancer screening for men at risk.

Chris Booth FRCS

Clinical Director

CHAPS – The Men’s Health Charity