High Rate of Delayed Diagnoses Amongst Bowel Cancer Patients

A September 2016 study released by the British Journal of Cancer suggests that as many as one in five UK bowel cancer patients identified through emergency diagnoses are exhibiting “red flag symptoms” that should have been picked up at an earlier stage of medical examination.

This suggests that there is a high rate of delayed diagnoses amongst bowel cancer patients. As many as 16% are also thought to have seen their GP at least 3 times in the build up to their delayed diagnosis of cancer, implying many patients could potentially be eligible for medical negligence compensation where GPs may be reasonably culpable for the delayed diagnosis of cancers.

GPs Fail to Identify 35% of Colon Cancer Cases

Researchers from the University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at diagnoses collated from English patients from 2005 to 2006, focusing particularly on the five years preceding their eventual diagnoses of cancer. Amongst a sample size of 1,606 patients gathered from more than 200 nationwide GP practices, it was found that 35% of colon cancers and 15% of rectal cancers were only identified as a result of an emergency presentation, rather than being picked up on by GPs in the years preceding. Of these, 17.5% of colon cancer patients and 23% suffering from rectal cancer were found to be displaying “red flag symptoms”, known to include rectal bleeding, blood in stools, significant changes in bowel habits and sustained stomach pain.

Researchers Claim Delayed Diagnosis of Cancer Could Have Been Avoided

Researchers emphasise that had these red flags been picked up on sooner, patients could have avoided delayed diagnoses of cancer, and had a greater chance of successful treatment; a point iterated by head researcher Cristina Renzi, before issuing the following statement to the BBC:

“…in most cases they [patients] visit their doctor for various reasons multiple times during the months leading up to their diagnosis, which could represent opportunities to diagnose the cancer earlier…”It’s important to find ways to ensure these patients can be diagnosed at an early stage…And this study highlights the need to support GPs and give them the tools to diagnose and refer patients promptly when they feel it’s necessary.”

Opportunities for Early Diagnosis Wasted

As Renzi’s statement highlights, most patients did in fact visit their GP in the period leading up to their diagnosis, regardless of whether or not it would prove to be an emergency one. This supports the notion that the opportunities for an earlier diagnosis may have existed, and that there is indeed a high rate of delayed diagnoses amongst bowel cancer patients across the UK.

Head of Patient Information and Health at Cancer Research UK Dr Julie Sharp also issued the following statement, observing the fact that GPs may often struggle to diagnose the kind of cancers examined in the study because of ambiguous symptoms:

“…research like this, to understand more about people’s symptom histories, is crucial to find better ways to diagnose the disease at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.”

With such instances of potential misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of cancer amongst some patient demographics, some may understandably worried.

Our Thoughts on the High Rate of Delayed Diagnoses Amongst Bowel Cancer Patients

Commenting on the findings, Jason Brady, clinical negligence solicitor at Blackwater Law in Essex, said:
“It is concerning to see such a high number of cancer diagnoses resulting from emergency presentations when there may have been opportunities to diagnose at an earlier stage.”

If you or a loved one has suffered unnecessarily as a result of delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, you may be entitled to claim clinical negligence compensation. Contact Blackwater Law clinical negligence solicitors today on 0800 083 5500, for free initial legal advice from a specialist solicitor.