Nearly half of cancer cases in England are diagnosed late, which is reducing survival rates and costing the NHS twice as much as early treatment would.
That is the key conclusion from a new Cancer Research UK analysis, the Incisive Health report, which reveals that 46% of cancers in England are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when they are harder to treat successfully. The study notes that if all areas diagnosed cancers as early as the best in England, for four types of cancer alone, this could save the NHS over £44 million in treatment costs and benefit over 11,000 patients each year.

CR UK argues that “extrapolating this to all types of cancer would imply an annual saving of nearly £210 million, while helping to improve the survival prospects for more than 52,000 patients”. The report also estimates that if the best national levels of early diagnosis were delivered across the country, an extra 5,000 cancer patients would be alive five years after diagnosis.

The Incisive Health report states that treating colon cancer at its earliest stage costs £3,373 compared to £12,519 when treated at its latest stage. For ovarian cancer the cost rises from £5,328 to £15,081.

CR UK also highlights the wide variation across England, citing the case of bowel cancer where there is a nearly a threefold difference in patients being diagnosed early when comparing the highest and lowest performing areas. In lung cancer the variation is nearly fourfold and for ovarian cancer it is nearly fivefold.

The charity estimates the cost of treating late stage colon, rectal, lung and ovarian cancer is nearly two and a half times the amount for early stage treatment and without action to reduce late diagnosis, treatment costs for these four cancers will soar by £165 million over the next decade, due to an ageing population.

Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at CR UK, said “it’s vital that people are aware of their body and if they notice anything unusual for them they should visit their GP. And GPs play a critical role of course, knowing when symptoms need to be investigated and referring patients promptly for tests.”
Chief executive Harpal Kumar added that the report “provides a compelling case for substantial investment in efforts to achieve earlier diagnosis”.