Lower cancer survival in UK linked to delays in referring patients for tests

Cancer Research UK

GPs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are less likely to immediately refer people with possible cancer for tests or to a specialist than those in comparable countries, according to new research published in BMJ Open.

The research shows a link between survival and those countries where GPs were more likely to refer patients immediately and those who did not. The UK based GPs were least likely to refer quickly.

UK cancer survival is lower than each of the other countries examined except for Denmark.

The results from the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP) – a collaboration between six countries from around the world with similar health care systems – reveals striking new evidence for a possible explanation of international survival differences.

via Lower cancer survival in UK linked to delays in referring patients for tests | Cancer Research UK.

Link to research: Rose, P. et al. Explaining variation in cancer survival between eleven jurisdictions in the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership: a primary care vignette survey. BMJ Open. 2015.

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England smoking ban cuts children hospital admissions

Thousands of children may have been spared serious illness and admission to hospital by the smoking ban in England, research has shown.  The law making it illegal to smoke in public indoor places saw 11,000 fewer children being admitted to hospital each year with lung infections, the study found.

Researchers analysed more than 1.6 million hospital admissions of children aged 14 and under across England between 2001 to 2012.

They found that the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007 was followed by an immediate reduction of 13.8 per cent in the number of admissions for lower respiratory tract infections.

Admissions for upper respiratory tract infections also decreased but at a more gradual rate. The sharpest falls were seen in the most deprived children.

BBC report

Reference: Been, Jasper et al. Smoke-Free Legislation And Childhood Hospitalisations For Respiratory Tract Infections European Respiratory Journal (2015): ERJ-00146-2015. 29 May 2015.

Health apps: a note of caution

There’s a running joke that if you check your symptoms on the Internet, it will probably diagnose you with cancer.

But there seems to be a growing trend that we are starting to rely more and more on digital technology to help us with our health. For example, WebMD last reported an average of 156 million unique users per month – a 33 per cent increase from the previous year.

Health apps (applications that offer health-related services on your mobile phone or tablet) are flooding the market. And the same goes for wearable technology, or ‘wearables’, like the Fitbit, JawBone and most recently the Apple Watch.

One recent study in JAMA Dermatology, which looked at various skin cancer apps, found that three out of the four apps they examined incorrectly classified at least 30 per cent of melanomasas ‘unconcerning’.

The only one that was accurate wasn’t a diagnostic app at all – it helped people with suspected skin cancer by sending a picture directly to a certified dermatologist.

Another study, this time published in the British Journal of Dermatology, examined 39 skin cancer-focused apps and found that none them had been validated for diagnostic accuracy or usefulness by any established research methods.

View the full story here http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2015/04/24/health-apps-a-note-of-caution/

Low public awareness of concept of ‘overdiagnosis’

People’s awareness of the idea of ‘overdiagnosis’ in cancer screening is low, and they have varying opinions of how much is acceptable, according to a new study published in The BMJ

Overdiagnosis, or overdetection, of the disease is when cancers are picked up that would never have gone on to cause any harm in a person’s lifetime.  Researchers from the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences carried out a survey of 1,000 people in the UK to examine their views on overdetection.  While only one in three (29 per cent) people had heard of overdetection before the study began, results indicated that people were more accepting of it when the potential benefit perceived from screening was higher.

The researchers looked at three hypothetical cancer screening scenarios: breast (for women), prostate (for men) and bowel (for men and women). Online respondents were given the total number of annual cases in the UK and a description of the treatment – including any adverse effects – for each type of cancer. They were also presented with two different screening scenarios: one indicated a 10 per cent reduction in cancer-specific deaths and the second, a 50 per cent reduction. On average, people accepted between 113 to 150 people being overdetected per 1000 people screened. But up to seven per cent of those polled wouldn’t accept any overdetection, while as many as 14 per cent would accept overdetection of the entire screened population.

Link to research: http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h980

Report highlights progress slowdown in cancer services

The Department of Health and NHS England have “lost momentum” in improving cancer services in the last two years, MPs have warned. While survival continues to improve, nearly a third of people still die within a year of being diagnosed and around half do not survive for five years. This places the UK in a poor position compared to the rest of Europe, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said. Survival and access to treatment are poor for older people in particular, which is especially concerning as three in five cancers are diagnosed in people aged over 65, the report said. It criticised NHS England for not understanding what lies behind the variations and not using the available data to hold poorly performing local areas to account.

View the full report here

Alternative therapies: what’s the harm? – Cancer Research UK – Science blog

Alternative therapies: what’s the harm?

We often see stories in the media about cancer patients who have chosen alternative treatments, either alongside or instead of conventional treatment.

Every cancer patient has the right to decide what, if any, line of treatment they wish to pursue.

But we believe it’s vital that people make fully informed decisions based on genuine evidence about the risks and benefits of any therapy – whether alternative, complementary or conventional – in discussion with their doctor.

To be clear, ‘alternative’ usually implies a treatment is used instead of conventional medicine, while ‘complementary’ therapies are used alongside regular medical treatments.

Unfortunately, media and online coverage of alternative therapies often doesn’t tell the whole story or include professional medical advice, and can be very misleading.

Read the rest of the story via Alternative therapies: what’s the harm? – Cancer Research UK – Science blog.

Majority of public unaware of alcohol’s link with cancer

More than half of the British public are unaware of the link between alcohol consumption and cancer, according to a survey from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA). The UK- wide poll found that just 47 per cent of people were aware of any connection between alcohol and the disease. But an overwhelming majority (83 per cent) would back further nutritional and health information on alcohol labelling.

The results from the survey of 3077 people showed that nine in 10 (91 per cent) think that clarifying the health impacts of alcohol is important. But when challenged over their current knowledge, just under one in three (31 per cent) of people successfully acknowledged the links between alcohol and breast cancer. This stretched to half of people being aware of the links in relation to mouth or throat cancer.

The AHA is calling for health labelling to be made a legal requirement for alcohol products. Its campaign is pushing for every alcohol product to clearly describe its nutritional, calorie and alcohol content as well as make it clear through labelling that the safest option for pregnant women is to avoid alcohol consumption entirely.