A patient’s cancer treatment plan has been linked to the stage of diagnosis for the first time in new findings.
Researchers from Cancer Research UK and Public Health England have revealed whether NHS patients received surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, alone or in combination, linked with their cancer stage.
Patients are five times more likely to have surgery to remove their tumour, and far less likely to have chemotherapy, if they are diagnosed sooner rather than later.
Many people think of chemotherapy and radiotherapy when they think of cancer treatment, as this is the most appropriate form of treatment for some cancers.
But for most forms of the disease surgery to remove the tumour is the most effective way to cure the cancer. This option also minimises side effects and impact on quality of life.
The data examined was extensive, including about half a million patients with 22 different cancer types in England between 2013-2014.
Findings reveal seven in 10 (70%) diagnosed at the earliest stage (stage 1) had surgery to remove their tumour. This falls to around one in 10 (13%) of those diagnosed at the latest stage (stage 4).
Around 1 in 10 (12%) patients diagnosed at the earliest stage have chemotherapy. This rises to around 4 in 10 (39%) of those diagnosed at the latest stage.
Prof Mick Peake, a lead clinician in the study and based at Public Health England, said: “Doctors want to offer patients the best possible treatment. For some cancers, like leukaemia and lymphoma, that’s chemotherapy. But in most cases the earlier cancer is diagnosed the more likely it is to be effectively treated by surgery, and that means chemotherapy isn’t always necessary.
“In general, the treatment of cancers at an early stage also reduces the risk of long term side effects which can affect patients’ quality of life.”
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: “Understandably, people sometimes fear cancer treatments as well as the disease itself. This research shows how important an early diagnosis is for simplifying the treatment options as much as possible. Until now, we’ve not been able to look at such rich data for the whole of England and analyse who’s been treated how. Now, thanks to recent improvements, it’s possible to show how stage affects the treatments patients need, giving us a more complete picture.
“We all have our part to play to increase the number of patients diagnosed earlier. People should consult their GP if they are worried about symptoms, GPs should follow clinical guidelines to refer patients, and the right diagnostic tests need to be performed and reported promptly so that patients can benefit more from treatments. This all needs greater attention and our national cancer strategy helps give this focus.”