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£5m research for cancer diagnosis in GP surgeries

New diagnostic methods will save GPs’ and patients’ time and reduce patients’ anxiety

Louise Prime

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Royal College of GPs has welcomed a £5 million grant aimed at giving GPs better access to cancer diagnostic tools. Cancer Research UK (CRUK), which is funding the research project, said having more effective ways to diagnose cancer in GP surgeries would save both doctors’ and patients’ time, and reduce anxiety for patients.

The charity this morning announced its £5 million funding for the “revolutionary” CanTest project as part of its Catalyst Award, which it said “aims to help researchers from around the world deliver trailblazing progress in their field with long-lasting results”. CanTest will investigate and develop new ways for GPs, physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners to diagnose cancer in GP surgeries. It will assess the accuracy, cost effectiveness and suitability of a range of diagnostic methods and tools, with the aim of cutting both the wait for diagnosis and the number of referrals.

The project will involve researchers from across the UK (the Universities of Cambridge, Exeter and Leeds and University College London) and several international institutions, who will collaborate with GPs as well as scientists from multiple disciplines who are looking at diagnostic tests. It will also establish an International School for Cancer Detection Research in Primary Care, to build a research community and train and support scientists who want to enter this field, which the charity said would help “place the UK at the forefront of developing and implementing new cancer tests for GPs surgeries”.

Lead researcher Professor Willie Hamilton, from the University of Exeter said: “As a GP myself, I know that it can be frustrating to wait weeks for results before making any decisions for my patients. We’re trying to reduce this time by assessing ways that GPs could carry out these tests by themselves, as long as it’s safe and sensible to do so.”

Cancer Research UK chief executive Sir Harpal Kumar added: “This collaboration will help us discover new and more effective ways to diagnose cancer by applying different methods to GP surgeries, and finding out what really works for them on the job. … This has potential not only to save GPs’ and patients’ time, but also to reduce the anxiety patients feel when waiting for their results.”

The RCGP pointed out that GPs already appropriately refer people suspected of having cancer, but said they would welcome access to new or improved diagnostic tools. College chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “GPs are dealing with increasingly complex diseases in our surgeries – things that just a decade ago would have been referred immediately to secondary care – and this has only been made possible through advances that have come out of research done in the community, led by academic GPs in medical schools.”

She went on: “Any tool or method that is developed as a result of this research must be properly and rigorously evaluated before being rolled out widely, to ensure that it is safe for patients and supports GPs to deliver the best care possible. We know that CRUK and a collaboration of UK academic departments of general practice are ideally placed to deliver this high quality evidence.

“Giving GPs direct, rapid access to diagnostic tools is something that the RCGP has long been calling for, and we’re pleased to be continuing our work with Cancer Research UK in an area which could make a real difference to our patients’ lives.”

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