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The British Journal of Cancer has suggested that one in five bowel cancer patients who receive an emergency diagnosis had symptoms that should have been picked up earlier.

The study looked at diagnoses data in England from 2005 to 2006 and found that 16% of emergency patients had seen their GP with relevant symptoms, three or more times.

The researches from the University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at the medical history of patients diagnosed with cancer.

They analysed National Cancer Registry data and focused on what happened to 1,606 patients across 200 GP practices in the UK, during the five years before their diagnosis.

The study found that 35% of colon cancers and 15% of rectal cancers we emergency diagnosis.

The research found that many patients didn’t always have obvious symptoms of bowel cancer, so it would be harder for their GP to diagnose them early. However, up to 23% of patients did display “red flag” symptoms such as rectal bleeding, blood in stools, a change in bowel movements and stomach pains.

The research says the figures show there could have been opportunities to diagnose the disease earlier. It continued to say that access to special advice for GPs was important.

Cristina Renzi, lead researcher from University College London, told the BBC that patients diagnosed with cancer after an emergency presentation did not fare as well as patients diagnosed by their GP.

“However, in most cases they visit their doctor for various reasons multiple times during the months leading up to their diagnosis, which could represent opportunities to diagnose the cancer earlier. It’s important to find ways to ensure these patients can be diagnosed at an early stage. And this study highlights the need to support GPs and give them the tools to diagnose and refer patients promptly when they feel it’s necessary”, she continued.

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