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Early diagnosis is the key factor on improving survival rates in cancer.

£1.75 million to improve cancer diagnosis in people with multiple health conditions

A major new grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) will fund studies to help GPs diagnose cancer more swiftly in people who have other health conditions, so that more lives can be saved.

The £1.75 million award will fund a five year programme led by the University of Exeter, working with University College London. The research will seek to establish which groups of pre-existing conditions put patients at higher risk of delayed cancer diagnoses. It also seeks to develop and pilot tools to reduce these delays. Early diagnosis is the key factor on improving survival rates in cancer, a condition which will affect one in two people during their lives. Evidence indicates that diagnosis is delayed in patients who have other conditions already, as cancer symptoms can be even harder to spot.

Professor Jose M Valderas, of the University of Exeter, a researcher and GP who is jointly leading the programme, said: “The health service is very well designed for managing long term conditions one by one, but we are becoming increasingly aware of how it may struggle to give best care to patients who present with multiple long-term conditions. This programme of research will make a very specific contribution for improving care for these people by focusing on cancer diagnosis.”

Part of the research will involve examining the experience of GPs and nurses, on their perception of pre-existing conditions on cancer diagnosis.

The research will also present different scenarios, to both patients with existing conditions and clinicians, to examine what their response would be, and how they would interpret and act on different groups of symptoms.

Another strand of work will quantify the risk of different groups of symptoms in indicating cancer for people with pre-existing conditions. This will lead to updating tools that help GPs assess whether cancer risk is high enough to warrant further investigation.

The final stages of the research will involve developing a new way of reducing delays in diagnosing cancer in people with more than one health condition, and assessing the outcome in terms of patient benefits and economic impact.

Dr Gary Abel, of the University of Exeter, who is co leading the research, said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, far fewer patients have been investigated for possible cancer. That makes this research more important now than ever. The comprehensive nature of our investigations will allow us to establish for which patients, and where in the diagnostic journey, the biggest problems occurs. By doing this in a robust manner, we can develop a solution that targets these key stages and has the biggest impact.”

Date: 13 April 2021

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