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Big data driving earlier cancer diagnosis in England

Staff writer |
A PHE big data project has helped drive a fall in the proportion of cancer patients diagnosed as an emergency.

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The proportion of cancers diagnosed as an emergency at hospital has decreased. At the same time, the proportion of cancers diagnosed through urgent GP referral with a suspicion of cancer has increased.

The complete Routes to Diagnosis data, which covers more than 2 million patients diagnosed with cancer from 2006 to 2013, has been published by Public Health England (PHE). This publicly available, big data project tells us how people are diagnosed, with associated survival rates, for 56 different cancer sites and is a vital tool to help improve early diagnosis.

In 2006, almost 25% of cancers, 1 in 4, were diagnosed as an emergency. In 2013, this figure had fallen to 20%, or 1 in 5. This is against a rise in the overall cases of cancer.

Rates of survival for cancer patients diagnosed as an emergency are much lower than through other routes.

In cancers with screening programmes, like bowel and cervical, the proportion of those detected by screening, with the associated improved survival rates, have increased compared to 2006.

For a common cancer, like lung, the proportion diagnosed through the urgent GP referral route increased from 22% in 2006 to 28% in 2013, while the proportion diagnosed through emergency presentation fell each year, from 39% in 2006 down to 35% in 2013.

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