One in three lung cancer patients dies within three months of diagnosis despite having visited their GP several times beforehand, research has found.
Researchers from the University of Nottingham analysed family doctors' (GPs') investigation of lung cancer between 2000 and 2013.
They used data from The Health Improvement Network (THIN), which contains the anonymised health records of millions of primary care patients across the UK.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal found 20,142 cases of lung cancer recorded by 444 general practices during the study period.
Of these, one in 20 (5%; 1071) was recorded only on the death certificate.
Of the remainder, one in 10 patients (2036) died within a month of diagnosis; and around one in seven (15%) died within 3 months. These were classified as ‘early' deaths.
Over half (57%) of all lung cancer deaths were in men: they were 17% more likely to die early than women. The average age at diagnosis was 72. And those aged 80 and above were 80% more likely to die early than those who were diagnosed at a younger age.
The researchers point out that the average family doctor is likely to see only one new case of lung cancer a year.
The researchers said: "For this reason we need to promote better use of risk assessment tools, and use software prompts to help GPs to identify and investigate in a timely manner those at risk. This has potential to increase the proportion of patients who are diagnosed at an early stage and are, therefore, suitable for treatment with curative intent."
In a linked editorial, Dr Michael Peake, honorary consultant and senior lecturer at the University of Leicester's Glenfield Hospital, agreed that GPs need better tools to support their clinical decision making, so that they can pick up patients at risk earlier on.
He added: "The number of excess deaths linked to deprivation is large and the gap between the least and most deprived has not lessened over time. Improved targeting of public awareness campaigns to specific social groups is important so as not to widen this gap further."
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