Researchers from the University of Nottingham have published results in the Thorax journal, titled “What characteristics of primary care and patients are associated with early death in patients with lung cancer in the UK?”, which suggest patients who die early from lung cancer are interacting with primary care prediagnosis, implying potentially missed opportunities to identify them earlier.
Moreover, researchers found that 1 in 3 lung patients die within 90 days of diagnosis, stressing the need to diagnose patients earlier and develop more effective treatments.
“Improving the outlook for patients with lung cancer is a priority for us, and research into more effective ways to diagnose and treat the disease will be key”, Matthew Wickenden, Cancer Research UK’s early diagnosis manager said in the institution’s press release.
Researchers extracted all cases of lung cancer diagnosed between 2000 and 2013 from The Health Improvement Network database, and compared patients who died within 90 days of diagnosis with those who survived longer.
The team found that of 20,142 people with lung cancer, those who died early consulted with primary care prediagnosis more frequently, suggesting there are potentially missed opportunities to diagnose cancer at an earlier stage.
“If we can diagnose patients at an earlier stage hopefully they can get curable treatment rather than palliative treatment, which is what most patients are getting at the moment”, Dr. Emma O’Dowd who carried out the research at Nottingham University, explained in the press release.
Furthermore, the team found that risk factors associated with early lung cancer death included male sex, current smoking, increasing age, social deprivation and rural versus urban residence.
“This could be for a number of reasons, potentially including higher awareness of lung cancer symptoms in ex-smokers, or biological differences between lung cancers caused by smoking and those not linked to smoking,” Matthew Wickenden added in the press release. “Many thousands of people a year are dying just months after being diagnosed with the disease. Improving the outlook for patients with lung cancer is a priority for us, and research into more effective ways to diagnose and treat the disease will be key. Unfortunately, too many patients with lung cancer are diagnosed when their disease has already spread, meaning that potentially curative surgery is not an option. But we know that some areas of the country do better at diagnosing more cases earlier, which shows that more can be done,” he concluded.
Statistics show that more than two thirds of patients are diagnosed with lung cancer in a stage where the malignancy has already metastasized. Furthermore, physicians area likely to diagnose only 1 lung cancer case per year, even though they have appointments with thousands of patients presenting potential cancer symptoms.
However, this scenario has likely improved over the years, with campaigns alerting for the importance of regular medical check-ups and the importance of early cancer diagnosis, while guaranteeing that physicians have access to the information and technical means necessary to improve lung cancer diagnosis.