The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published a new quality standard that aims to speed up cancer diagnosis and save thousands of lives every year.
The cost watchdog noted that, in England alone, 10,000 lives could be saved every year through earlier detection of the disease and the use of more appropriate surgery as primary treatment.
More than 300,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the UK in 2013, and roughly half of all people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
The guidelines recommends that GPs have direct access to tests such as endoscopy, ultrasound, MRI, X-ray and CT for people with suspected cancer, to help speed up the diagnostic process.
There also needs to be better access to upper gastrointestinal endoscopy for suspected stomach and oesophageal cancer, and patients who don't meet the referral criteria for suspected colorectal cancer should have a faecal blood test.
Also key to securing early diagnosis and reducing waste of resources is boosting attendance rates for cancer service referrals, and so the Institute recommends giving patients written information to encourage them to attend.
The quality standard, which follows updated guidance on the recognition and referral of suspected cancer published last year, sets out clear tables linking signs and symptoms to possible cancers and includes simple recommendations about which tests to perform and the type of referral to specialist services that should be made.
"When we published our updated suspected cancer guidance last year we said the best way to successfully treat cancer was to make an early diagnosis," said Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE, noting that "it is a simple step that has the potential to save thousands of lives each year".
Cancer survival in England is lower than the European average, which is partly because patients in the country are being diagnosed at a later stage. However, there are signs of improvement: according to data from the National Cancer Intelligence Network, in 2006 almost 25 percent of cancers, one in four, were diagnosed as an emergency, but in 2013 this figure had fallen to 20 percent, or one in five.