Throughout the world, cancer is a prevalent disease impacting hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children each year. In the UK alone, more than half of new cases of cancer involve breast, prostate, lung, or bowel cancer, with more than 359,000 total cases diagnosed annually. An estimated 50% of patients with cancer survive past the ten-year mark after diagnosis, making any type of cancer a pressing issue for medical communities, patients, and their loved ones. Getting a correct diagnosis is an essential part of the process in improving cancer survival rates, but that is often easier said than done.

In a step toward progress in cancer diagnosis, the NHS in England has started trialing health centres focused on this broad issue. With each centre, patients who meet certain criteria are given multiple tests in a single location, with the intent to uncover a cancer diagnosis should one be present. In cases where cancer is not occurring, patients are put at ease with an all-clear from their medical professional in a short period of time. Without testing centres throughout the NHS, individuals and their families are sent to multiple locations to receive various tests for different forms of cancer. The health centres are meant to reduce not only the frustration that comes with making multiple visits, but also to reduce the wait times for patients so they have an answer – and a course of treatment – quicker.

How the Centres Work

The pilot programme in the UK is modeled after similar diagnostic centres currently operating in Denmark. These multidisciplinary testing facilities were created in an effort to help patients who presented to their primary doctor with vague symptoms that could be caused by underlying cancer. Instead of being referred out to various specialists who would then perform an array of tests, patients are seen almost immediately so they can receive an urgent diagnosis. Within the UK, diagnostic centre referrals from GPs are provided when patients have the following warning signs:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Reduce appetite
  • General malaise (not feeling well)
  • Sweats
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Pain that has no explanation

These common warning signs of cancer are the first indicator that further testing is required. Once identified, patients are given a referral to a health centre to undergo testing to help identify the underlying issue. The NHS shares that in the most successful cases, diagnosis can take place on the same day of their initial visit, although the next day is more likely for the majority of the patient population. The goal of the centres is to reduce wait times for cancer diagnosis substantially while also giving patients who do not have cancer peace of mind without the wait.

Progress, but with Some Risk

The health centre pilot programme came together from a joint initiative involving NHS, Cancer Research UK, and Macmillan, and many advocacy groups are praising the forward progress these centres promise. However, they are not without risk, as a leading team of medical negligence experts share. Representatives from the solicitors’ office state that although the early diagnosis of cancer is beneficial in most cases, there is a potential for overdiagnosis when cancer screenings are more prevalent. Some tests fail to differentiate between cancer that needs immediate treatment and forms that do not require intervention right away. Not being able to decipher the types in a multidisciplinary testing centre leaves patients open to receiving a diagnosis that ultimately leads to treatment which may not be necessary. For patients who do not have cancer, the anxiety that comes with being referred to a testing centre may put them under undue stress until the all-clear is provided.

Even though the risk of overdiagnosis is real, the testing centres trialed in the UK are a significant step in the right direction for the millions of people who depend on the NHS for quality healthcare. Currently, ten areas of the NHS are piloting the programme, including Churchill, Royal Oldham, Airedale, St Jame’s University, Royal Free, Queen’s, Southend University, and North Middlesex University Hospitals, as well the University College London Hospital and University Hospital South Manchester. The hope is that as cancer diagnosis wait times are reduced with the help of these centres, more will be rolled out in the coming months to improve the lives of patients leaning on the NHS for help.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 828 other subscribers.

Follow us on Twitter