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Identify your at risk patients for an early cancer diagnosis

Written by Steve Marriott on 21-Aug-2018 20:30:00

early cancer diagnosis

Every two minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer. An early cancer diagnosis is more likely to lead to a successful outcome. If a tumour gets too large or spreads to other areas of the body, it is more difficult to treat. Cancer Research UK say that diagnosis at the earliest stage helps:

  1. More than 9 in 10 bowel cancer patients survive the disease for 5 years or longer 
  2. 90% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer to survive their disease for at least 5 years
  3. Over 80% of lung cancer patients to survive for at least a year

Unfortunately, cancer is often diagnosed at a late-stage, which results in lower survival. In 2016, cancer was the cause of 28% of all UK deaths. If we know that early diagnosis is so important, why is early detection difficult?

There are many reasons, including:

  1. Some cancers don't display any signs or symptoms in the early stages
  2. Patients don't talk to their doctor because they don't know a symptom is important
  3. Some people might delay seeing a GP when they worry about what they might find

There is a common thread here. Doctors can't detect cancer at an early stage because patients aren't talking to them. GPs can only consider referrals and diagnostic tests if the patient decides to make an appointment. Instead of reacting to patients when they choose to talk to their GP, why not be proactive and take the lead?

Identify patients at risk of cancer

Computers are very good at performing repetitive tasks, such as trawling through data. Vision can analyse medical records and identify patients at risk of certain cancers.

The Cancer Decision Support tool (CDS) is part of the more extensive Prevention and Diagnosis programme of work by Macmillan Cancer Support. The CDS calculates the risk of undiagnosed site-specific cancers, including:

  • colorectal
  • lung
  • gastro-oesophageal
  • pancreatic
  • ovarian

The CDS derives a patient's risk from their demographic details, test results and symptoms from the previous 12 months. A value of 2% or more suggests that a patient is at-risk.

The CDS consists of alerts, reports and a data entry template.

1. Alerts during consultations

There is an alert to warn GPs during consultations when a patient has a high cancer risk score. Bringing this risk to the GP's attention encourages them to 'think cancer' while they are with their patient.

high risk of cancer

If a patient has a high risk for more than one tumour site, they are grouped in one alert, helping to reduce pop-up fatigue.

2. Risk assessment reports

Risk assessment reports show all your patients that have a cancer risk of 2 per cent or more. You can work with the report to review medical records. You can also invite patients for clinical evaluation by letter or text message.

3. Data entry template

The template allows you to record extra information and calculate a cancer risk during a consultation. It's quick and easy to record details of relevant signs and symptoms reported by the patient.

How to get started

The CDS helps you find patients that have a high risk of cancer and encourage earlier diagnosis. Using the CDS can make a real difference to the lives of your patients and their families.

Watch the videos to find out how to download the CDS and get started. You can also read answers to frequently asked questions.


 Published 25 July 2017 , updated 21 August 2018

Topics: healthcare management


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