Beating bowel cancer together

Ten per cent of bowel cancer patients can wait more than a year to start treatment

It can take up to a year for some bowel cancer patients in the UK to start treatment, according to international research co-ordinated by Cancer Research UK and published in the British Medical Journal Open today.

Researchers found that it took a year or more from first spotting a symptom to beginning treatment for 10% of patients in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

A team from the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP) – a collaboration between countries with similar healthcare systems and high-quality data – tracked each step people with bowel cancer went through before treatment. They examined questionnaires, completed by 2,866 international patients and their doctors, as well as medical records of patients diagnosed between 2013 and 2015.

They found that men and women in Wales took the longest to contact their doctor once they had noticed a health concern or symptom (49 days on average).

Once cancer had been diagnosed, patients in Wales then waited the longest (39 days on average) before starting chemotherapy, radiotherapy or having surgery - more than double the length of time for patients in Denmark and Victoria, Australia (14 days).

Overall, patients in Wales had the longest time than any of the other areas in the study between noticing a change and beginning treatment (168 days on average).

This compared to 145 days in England, 138 days in Northern Ireland and 120 days in Scotland. Denmark performed the best with the process taking 77 days on average.

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK, says: “This report confirms what we have known for some time; that there are significant challenges across the bowel cancer diagnostic pathway and patients are at a risk of a later stage diagnosis if they experience delays. 

“It is totally unacceptable for patients to be waiting in the system for long periods before they are diagnosed and start treatment. The worry and stress of not knowing the results of tests, or wondering about whether the cancer is growing is truly horrendous. Significant delay can literally mean the difference between life and death.

“The Governments and the NHS across the UK are seeking to address these challenges, but it’s taking too long. This additional evidence is another wake up call that we need decisive action at the highest levels to turn this bleak picture around.”

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