Help us to stop bowel cancer

One in five bowel cancer patients being diagnosed as emergency

A new study published today by Cancer Research UK in the British Journal of Cancer reported that around one in five bowel cancer patients diagnosed after an emergency presentation have displayed at least one cancer ‘alarm symptom’ in the year leading up to their diagnosis.

The study found that ‘red flag’ symptoms were much more common in patients who were diagnosed via non-emergency routes, and that patients diagnosed as an emergency often did not display these symptoms strongly associated with bowel cancer.

Most patients, regardless of how they were diagnosed, visited their doctor in the year before their diagnosis. And patients saw their doctors more often in the months and days leading up to their diagnosis, with the number of visits increasing significantly both for patients diagnosed by emergency and non-emergency routes.

The study, at University College London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, looked at National Cancer Registry data that was linked to GP data for 1,606 patients across more than 200 GP practices. The research focused on patient data for the five years leading up to the cancer diagnosis.

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK said about the study, “Diagnosing bowel cancer can be difficult, as the symptoms can be vague and can be due to a range of other bowel conditions.

However, the findings from this study are concerning as they show that 17.5 per cent of colon cancer patients and 23 per cent of rectal cancer patients who were diagnosed as an emergency had ‘red flag’ symptoms, indicating the disease could have been identified earlier.  People with these symptoms should be referred through the normal pathways without delay.

For those whose symptoms are more vague, we must find ways to rule out bowel cancer quickly as outcomes after an emergency admission can be poor.  For example there is now increasing evidence on the benefits of using a sensitive faecal immunochemical test as a first line test to triage to further diagnostic testing in low risk but not no risk patients.  We must focus on solutions such as this to ensure we give people the chance for an early diagnosis when treatment is most successful.”