What are the issues?
One in two people in England will have a diagnosis of cancer at some point in their lives and only half of these people will be diagnosed with stage 1 or 2 disease. We know that early diagnosis is key to survival outcomes; when a cancer is diagnosed at an early stage – and treated, the chance of survival beyond five years is far higher than at a later stage when the cancer has spread.
There are several reasons why cancers are not diagnosed at an earlier stage including:
- Poor awareness about the signs and symptoms of cancer, in particular symptoms which could relate to other health issues like change in bowel habit or a persistent cough.
- Delays in getting a referral for appropriate tests or getting a hospital appointment.
- Fear of taking up doctor’s time or what the doctor might find.
What is the TCST’s Early Diagnosis Team doing?
The team support London’s health and care systems by:
- Providing a once-for-London approach to urgent suspected cancer referrals.
- Implementing evidence-based guidance for cancer diagnostics and screening.
- Developing educational resources and amplifying awareness campaigns for both healthcare professionals and patients to promote faster diagnosis at an earlier stage.
- Creating regional data analytics tools to support local quality improvement projects and practice-changing research.
In 2018 the TCST Early Diagnosis Team’s work on the the Pan London Suspected Cancer Referral Form project was hortlisted by the Health Services Journal in the ‘Optimising Clinical Practice and Systems’ category.
What are the priorities in the NHS Long-Term Plan?
The NHS Long-Term plan sets out an ambitious target to have three-quarters of all cancers diagnosed at an early stage by 2028 and plan to do this with the roll out new Rapid Diagnostic Centres (RDCs), extension of the current screening programmes (including lower ages for bowel screening, lung health checks and new forms of cervical screening) and the new Faster Diagnosis Standard.
Within the London region, the TCST team will be supporting this ambition through shared best practice across London RDCs, supporting research into novel screening tools such as Cytosponge, Colon Capsule and self-test kits for cervical screening. The team are also innovating to improve the urgent suspected referral pathway, such as embedded advice & guidance and data tools to explore local health inequalities.