UK researchers have identified a slight delay in diagnosing bowel cancer when patients see their usual doctor, in comparison with seeing someone new.

However, Tim Malloy, president of the RNZCGP, says the study approach would need to be more robust to enable significant conclusions to be drawn.

“I think there’s a little bit of a leap in assumptions being made from the data to the conclusions,” he told New Zealand Doctor today.

Researchers, led by Matthew Ridd, a senior lecturer in primary care at the University of Bristol, say results show patient–doctor continuity in the two years before diagnosis was associated with a slightly later diagnosis of colorectal cancer – a delay of up to seven days.

Caution recommended for well-known patients

They say it suggests GPs working in primary care “should be cautioned against overlooking potentially worrying symptoms or signs among patients who they know well”.

Published in the British Journal of General Practice, the retrospective cohort study looked at 10 years of records from general practices involving patients who were diagnosed with breast, bowel or lung cancer when aged 40 or over.

Too great a burden on GPs

Mary Bradley, chair of Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa, says she does hear of bowel cancer being misdiagnosed. But she believes the lack of a nationwide screening programme put too much of a burden on GPs to diagnose a disease that can be difficult to identify.

She is much more concerned about the delays in getting colonoscopies after a GP referral has been made.

“We’ve heard of delays of up to one year,” she says, which can mean the difference between treatable and terminal cancer.

The UK study also says most of the delays in diagnosing all three cancers – breast, bowel and lung – occur after referrals have been made.

The authors add, until more research is carried out, practices should encourage patients to follow up new problems with the same doctor.


By: Ruth Brown