Beating bowel cancer together

The National Bowel Cancer Audit results

Today findings from the annual National Bowel Cancer Audit have been published. The audit, which aims to improve patient care, measures and compares the diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes of over 30,000 bowel cancer patients across England and Wales. This report suggests changes to improve care for people with the disease in the future.

Key points from the audit include:

  • One in ten patients (10%) are diagnosed with bowel cancer through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, and are more likely to be diagnosed at an early stage of the disease. Over half of patients (55%) were diagnosed following a GP referral and a further 18% of patients were diagnosed in an emergency presentation (such as in A&E) where outcomes are less favourable. This is a slight improvement from last year (20%).
  • There is large geographical variation for the use of keyhole surgery, ranging from 38% - 76% across England. Patients having surgery to remove their tumour are recommended to have this less invasive approach where possible, which tends to have a shorter recovery time.
  • There is considerable variation in the use of potentially curable surgery, where a quarter of patients (25%) aged 75 and over are not receiving surgery with a view to being cured.
  • Two thirds (67%) of all bowel cancer patients survive beyond two years. This has remained stable since 2012/13.
  • Nearly two thirds of patients (63%) diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer received adjuvant chemotherapy. This is when chemotherapy is offered alongside other treatments, such as surgery. However this varies across hospitals from 55% to 75%.

Dr Lisa Wilde, Director of Research and External Affairs at Bowel Cancer UK, says: “Variations identified in the audit highlight a system defined by a postcode lottery for bowel cancer patients, with where they live affecting whether or not they receive the best available care.   

“It is encouraging to see an increase in stage 3 patients receiving adjuvant chemotherapy, but more needs to be done to ensure this is available to all patients who need it regardless of where they live.

“The root cause of many of these variations is a system stretched to its limits. There are simply not enough staff in the NHS to diagnose and treat bowel cancer patients. The forthcoming NHS People Plan provides an opportunity to address these issues and must be adequately funded to deliver a system to provide the best care for all.”

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