1 in 5 have ‘red flag’ bowel cancer symptoms before going to A&E

bowel cancer red flag

Around a fifth of people diagnosed with bowel cancer in A&E say they’ve had ‘red flag’ symptoms in the year leading up to diagnosis, a new study claims.

And worryingly, many of these patients had visited their doctor repeatedly in the 12 months leading up to their diagnosis, suggesting a number of missed opportunities to catch the disease earlier.

A warning flag

The two main ‘red flag’ symptoms are a change in bowel habit and bleeding, says University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

While these symptoms were much more common in patients who were diagnosed in places other than A&E, 17.5% of bowel cancer patients and 23% of rectal cancer patients diagnosed in an emergency situation also had these symptoms.

The research team discovered the figures by examining the National Cancer Registry for 1,606 GP patients across more than 200 practices.

Most patients visited their GP in the year up to being diagnosed for various reasons, with the number of visits increasing significantly in the run up to diagnosis.

Speed of diagnosis critical

Cristina Renzi, lead researcher, says patients diagnosed after emergency presentations don't do as well as patients diagnosed by their doctor through non-emergency routes.

Most patients picked up through the emergency route are harder to diagnose early as they often don't show typical bowel cancer symptoms, she adds.

But as they are visiting their doctor multiple times during the months leading up to their diagnosis, this should be an opportunity to diagnose the cancer earlier.

The study, she claims, highlights the need to support GPs and give them the tools to diagnose and refer patients promptly when they feel it's necessary.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of patient information and health, agrees it is important to find better ways of picking up the patients earlier and getting them referred appropriately.

The study was published in the British Journal of Cancer.


For more information on bowel cancer diagnosis and symptoms, see our Infographic.


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