In an unprecedented move, the NHS in England is taking a swift step in the right direction toward improving diagnosis time for potential cancer patients. With new one-stop health centres, individuals in the UK now have a single location to visit in order to receive full diagnostic testing for several cancer types. The adoption of these cancer screening centres comes on the back of problematic statistics with canceled cancer operations over the last winter season. Many see the new process as a hopeful sign of forward progress for the NHS and the patients who rely heavily on its services.
Symptoms Leading to a Referral
Cancer comes in many different forms, and given the breadth of the disease, getting a proper diagnosis from one or two symptoms isn’t realistic. With the new health centres being trialed throughout England, doctors are able to send patients with vague symptoms for quicker diagnosis. The list of warning signs for cancer that warrant a referral may include:
- Weight loss that has no explanation
- Loss of appetite
- Profuse sweating that has no cause
- Abdominal pain or ongoing discomfort
- A general feeling of being unwell or sick
While one of these symptoms may not lead to a cancer diagnosis, the combination of any could mean a patient is in need of a round of diagnostic tests. Through the new health centres, patients who would otherwise need to visit many specialists via several appointments can receive all the testing they need for specific types of cancer, in a single location.
The Timeframe for Diagnosis
One of the reasons the UK is rolling out new diagnostic health centres is to greatly reduce the amount of time individuals with potential symptoms of cancer have to wait for a correct diagnosis. The NHS estimates that some patients could receive results of testing in as little as the same day as their visit. For those who require additional testing, it could be as long as two weeks for turnaround time. However, getting the right information that symptoms are indeed due to cancer, or that there is no cancer present, eases the minds of many patients without having to wait several weeks to months for an answer. The sooner diagnosis is provided, the sooner adequate treatment can begin.
Considerations Moving Forward
Early diagnosis of cancer is an essential step in improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients each year. When treatment is offered to fight off cancer within the body, an individual’s chance of survival is that much higher. An all-clear report showing no signs of cancer proves just as beneficial to patients who aren’t feeling their best. Instead of getting treatment for something they do not have, they can focus on getting better with the remedies that doctors know will work for their circumstances.
While the addition of health centres in the UK for early diagnosis of cancer is a great forward step for the NHS in reducing wait times for patients, there are still risks involved. A group of medical negligence experts in the UK shares that overdiagnosis may be an unintended outcome of such quick turnaround time from diagnostic tests. When a cancer is complex, it can mean a conventional screening won’t do much to provide a true and accurate diagnosis. Instead, patients are often recommended to return to a specialist or testing centre for more screenings, which simply compounds the anxiety of not knowing. Similarly, conditions like breast cancer present differently among various patients. There are some cancers that do not need treatment immediately, and others that require quick intervention. If the wrong recommendation for treatment is given based on the results of a health centre screening, patients could end up enduring treatment that is far from necessary.
While there are risks involved with increased screening for several different types of cancers, most patient advocates, medical professional, and most importantly, patients themselves, are optimistic about the recent NHS addition. The health centres are currently being tested in ten areas, including Airedale General Hospital, Churchill Hospital, Queen’s Hospital, Royal Oldham Hospital, and University Hospital South Manchester. If the NHS experiences a high rate of success with faster diagnosis and ultimately, more timely treatment of patients with cancer, it is likely the health centres will expand further. As it stands now, the NHS is being widely praised for the move to help reduce cancer wait times across the board.