Britons received a bit of a shock this week when they learned that almost one in four cancer cases in England are detected at a late stage, according to an audit by the National Cancer Intelligence Network. They're detected so late, in fact, that they likely have already been admitted for emergency treatment. The problem is worse among the poor and sufferers of brain tumors or acute leukemia. More than half of those cases are discovered only when they've reached a stage when they're admitted to emergency rooms.
The problem, experts agree, is inadequate screening programs, failure of doctors to identify early warning signs and lack of general awareness of symptoms. Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said the figures show why England has low cancer survival rates. "We need screening programs to be rolled out as early as possible and GPs given rapid access to the tests that will enable patients to be moved quickly through the system," he is quoted as saying in The Daily Telegraph.
Britain has national screening programs for only three types of cancer: cervical, bowel and breast cancer, the paper reports, and tests are not yet accurate enough for other forms of the disease. The study found that 3 percent of skin cancers and 4 percent of breast cancers were diagnosed by doctors or screening programs before they reached the emergency room. However, for ovarian cancer, which kill almost 4,500 women a year, 29 percent were diagnosed in the emergency room.
"UK ovarian cancer survival rates are amongst the poorest in Europe, late diagnosis is a key factor," says Frances Reid, Target Ovarian Cancer's director of public affairs. "If we matched the average European survival rates, more than 400 women's lives would be saved each year."