More than 3,000 lives could be saved if bowel cancer sufferers were diagnosed earlier, a charity has revealed.
New figures released by Beating Bowel Cancer show the majority of patients are diagnosed too late, with a huge variation within the NHS across England in terms of how soon it is detected.
The best performing Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are diagnosing 63% of patients early compared with only 30% in the worst, research found.
The figures show that if every NHS region in England performed as well as the best at diagnosing the disease early, 3,200 lives could be saved and £34 million could be diverted to other bowel cancer services and treatments.
If every patient with bowel cancer was diagnosed sooner (at stage one or two) the NHS could avert treatment costs of more than £103 million.
Bowel cancer is the UK's second biggest cancer killer but those diagnosed with stage one bowel cancer have a 97% chance of survival compared with just 6% when the cancer is more advanced.
As well as providing patients with a much better chance of survival, it also costs the NHS far less due to the fact that treatment for the earlier stages of cancer is often less intensive and invasive than when it is more advanced.
Beating Bowel Cancer chief executive, Mark Flannagan, said: "It's unacceptable that there are CCGs in England that diagnose less than one in three patients at an early stage.
"If they all performed as well as the best, thousands of lives could be saved and millions of pounds could be freed up to be used for other bowel cancer treatments, which patients are frequently told are unaffordable.
"This will require further improvements in screening, renewed efforts to raise awareness of signs and symptoms, and investment to support improvements in GP performance in investigating and referring patients appropriately."
About 41,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and around 16,000 people die of it annually. It is the fourth most common cancer in the UK.