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GPs need cancer diagnosis tools in their surgeries

RCGP says timely diagnosis and treatment can only happen with more community resources

Mark Gould

Monday, 29 April 2019

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) says GPs need wider access to diagnostic tools and to be trained to use them in their surgeries in a bid to tackle rising rates of lung cancer in non-smokers.

Last week OnMedica reported on Public Health England research* published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine which revealed that around 6,000 non-smoking Britons a year now die of lung cancer, many at a stage where it is incurable. That is about a sixth of the 36,000 deaths a year from lung cancer.

The authors included Professor Paul Cosford, Public Health England’s director for health protection and medical director, and Professor Mick Peake, the director of the centre for cancer outcomes at University College London hospitals, which attributed the rise on car fumes, second-hand smoke and indoor air pollution. Professor Cosford is himself a non-smoker who has lung cancer. They are calling for a ban on wood burning stoves because the soot they generate is also a risk.

Responding to the research RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that in general terms GPs are getting better at referring cancers before they become hard to treat: "Lung cancer can be very difficult to diagnose in primary care as one key symptom is coughing, which can also be a sign of much more common, less serious conditions – particularly if the patient is a non-smoker.

"GPs are always mindful of pressures across the NHS, so we will only refer if we genuinely suspect a patient has any form of cancer. One key way to further improve appropriate referrals is to make sure that GPs have better access to diagnostic tools in the community, and the appropriate training to use them.

"Ultimately, we also need to see more resources in the community, including more GPs, so that we can continue to offer improved access and deliver the best possible care to all our patients, including those with cancer and those we suspect of having cancer.

"Cancer is an enduring priority for the RCGP, and we have worked with Cancer Research UK and others to develop resources for GPs and other healthcare professionals to support them in the timely diagnosis of cancer."

*Bhopal A, Peake MD, Gilligan D, et al. Lung cancer in never-smokers: a hidden disease. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. First published: April 25, 2019. DOI:10.1177/0141076819843654

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