The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is updating its guidance on suspected cancer to improve early diagnosis rates.

Up to 10,000 people in England could be dying each year due to late diagnoses, notes NICE, a situation which is not helped by patients going to the doctor with symptoms that are non-specific. GPs have between 6,000-8,000 appointments every year and have around 10 minutes with each patient to pick out warning signs that could be cancer, but equally may be a symptom of a less serious condition.

Therefore NICE has updated its suspected cancer guideline and has included a number of tables which link symptoms to the cancers they are associated with. It also sets out the timeframe for referrals to a specialist, ranging from 48 hours to two weeks, depending on urgency.

Mark Baker, NICE’s clinical practice director, said there are more than 200 different types of the disease “so it is unrealistic to expect [GPs] to know every single sign and symptom of each one, especially when they only see a handful (on average eight) of new cases a year”. He added that the guideline is being updated “to make things as simple as possible for GPs to consider the possibility of cancer and refer people to the right service at the right time”.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said “we know it’s not easy for GPs to deal with symptoms where they have a sense that things aren’t right but no procedure to follow to arrange further tests”. She went on to say the guidelines “should give them more options to get patients referred quickly but to be truly effective doctors need better access to diagnostic tests and speedy results”.

NICE’s public consultation on the draft guideline will run until January 9.