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Nearly four in ten cancer patients in Wales diagnosed in emergency settings

Published: 8 April 2022

New research from the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit (WCISU) at Public Health Wales has revealed that nearly four in ten (37.4 per cent) of the eight types of cancer in the study are being diagnosed in emergency settings, such as in hospital A&E departments.

The research shows that a higher proportion of patients in Wales has their cancer diagnosed when they present as an emergency, compared to other similar countries.

The analysis by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP), in collaboration with WCISU and others was published today in the Lancet Oncology journal, and was the first of its kind in the world.

The research looked at the diagnosis of more than 850,000 cancers between 2012 and 2017, in comparable countries, with broadly similar health services (Wales, England, Scotland, Norway, New Zealand, Australia and Canada). It showed that while the emergency diagnosis rates in Wales are similar to that of England (37 per cent) and Scotland (38.5 per cent), this rate lags behind many Australian states and Canadian provinces.

The cancers most likely to be diagnosed in emergency settings were those with fewer or more general symptoms, such as ovarian, pancreatic, liver and lung cancers.  In addition, older people were more likely to be diagnosed via this route.

The research shows that countries with higher levels of cancer diagnosis in emergency settings had poorer cancer survival rates as a result.

Professor Dyfed Wyn Huws, Director of WCISU, said:

“This study is the first of its kind in the world and shows the importance of early diagnosis of cancer through attending screening, seeking help early for worrying symptoms, access to GP services and investigations and tests, such as scans, and rapid diagnosis centres.

“In countries where there were higher rates of patients not being diagnosed with cancer until they presented at emergency departments, there were corresponding lower rates of survival from the disease.

“The research by ICBP, WCISU and cancer registries in other countries gives a new insight into the difficulties that a later and emergency diagnosis causes.  It is disappointing to see that Wales is lagging behind other countries somewhat, but it demonstrates that this is a global problem.

“Inevitably it is those cancers with few or very general symptoms that end up being diagnosed in emergency settings.  Data and insight like this analysis shows the impact that this makes on patients.”