October 14, 2014, by Charlotte Anscombe

Nearly one in three lung cancer patients in the UK dies within three months of diagnosis

Nearly one in three lung cancer patients in the UK dies within three months of diagnosis, despite having visited their family doctor several times beforehand, according to new research from The University of Nottingham.

The findings suggest that family doctors may not be picking up the signs of lung cancer and investigating them as appropriately as they might, or promptly enough.

Respiratory physician Dr Emma O’Dowd, who led the research at the University, found that those who died within three months had seen their GP an average five times before they finally received a diagnosis.

Her team analysed a sample 20,140 cases of lung cancer seen at 440 GP surgeries between 2000 and 2013.

Their research, published in the BMJ journal Thorax, established that 30 per cent of lung cancer patients died within three months of a diagnosis.

Just over 10 per cent died within a month of being told they had the disease. And for 5 per cent, there was no record of lung cancer except on the death certificate, indicating the victim never knew why they were dying.

Dr O’Dowd told The Daily Mail that the research disproves the idea that only those who neglect to visit their GP receive a late diagnosis.

She said: “We’re losing a lot of patients early on. I wanted to find out more about these patients who died early and if there are features that can help us to diagnose them earlier.

“I started off with the preconception that people who died early didn’t ever see their GP. Actually, they saw their GPs more before diagnosis compared to those patients who lived longer.

“That was a surprising finding but obviously with this piece of work we can see specifically what symptoms they have come in with.”

She found that the odds of an early death were lower among those who had received a chest X-ray.

But because many of those who have lung cancer are regular smokers, the symptoms may be mistaken for a smoker’s cough, meaning the GP does not take further action.

Dr O’Dowd added that most GPs are only likely to see one new case of lung cancer a year, meaning they are not familiar with the signs of the disease.

She said: “Lung cancer can be difficult for doctors to distinguish from other lung diseases so we need to give them some tools that will help identify a patient as high risk.

“If we can diagnose patients at an earlier stage hopefully they can get curable treatment rather than palliative treatment which is what most patients are getting at the moment.

“It’s not that we’re trying to blame the GPs but if we have tools to identify these high risk people earlier than we should put them to use.”

The research has been funded by The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. To see a full copy of the report, visit – BMJ journal Thorax

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