More than 100,000 patients waited longer than two weeks to see a cancer specialist after being urgently referred by their GP last year, new figures show.
Two weeks is the maximum waiting time allowed by the NHS in England for cancer referrals, with hospitals and surgeries required to investigate and offer a list of alternative clinics if the target is exceeded.
Waiting longer than 14 days for tests leaves patients in an “appalling state of limbo”, Macmillan Cancer Support has said, while experts have warned failing to act quickly could risk lives if tumours are not spotted soon enough.
In 2016, 102,697 people did not see a consultant within two weeks of referral, according to analysis of NHS data by the House of Commons Library, reported The Guardian.
The Government says 93 per cent of patients should be seen by a specialist within two weeks.
Official statistics show this was met in 2015/6, with 94.3 per cent seen within the two-week standard – but down from 95.9 per cent in 2011/12.
The latest analysis, requested by shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, found that around one in six NHS trusts, 25 out of 157, failed to meet the 93 per cent target.
Nine out of ten patients referred to hospital are not diagnosed with cancer.
However, waiting too long to see a specialist can lead to tumour growth and a rise in “anxiety experienced by patients and their relatives at this difficult time,” said the Royal College of Radiologists.
Cancer Research UK warned last month that another key waiting target for cancer patients – to start treatment 62 days after urgent GP referral – is now at the worst level on record.
NHS England aims for 85 per cent of patients to start treatment 62 days after referral, but this target has been missed annually for three years.
Figures for January show only 79.7 per cent of patients began treatment within this time, the worst performance since the target was introduced in 2009, warned the charity.
Jonathan Ashworth called the research results “a badge of shame for this Government”.
13 ways to help prevent cancer
13 ways to help prevent cancer
Stopping smoking. This notoriously difficult habit to break sees tar build-up in the lungs and DNA alteration and causes 15,558 cancer deaths a year
Avoiding the sun, and the melanoma that comes with overexposure to harmful UV rays, could help conscientious shade-lovers dodge being one of the 7,220 people who die from it
A diet that is low in red meat can help to prevent bowel cancer, according to the research - with 30 grams a day recommended for men, and 25 a day recommended for women
Foods high in fibre, meanwhile, can further make for healthier bowels. Processed foods in developed countries appear to be causing higher rates of colon cancer than diets in continents such as Africa, which have high bean and pulse intakes
Two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day were given as the magic number for good diet in the research. Overall, diet causes only slightly fewer cancer deaths than sun exposure in Australia, at 7,000 a year
Obesity and being overweight, linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, causes 3,917 deaths by cancer a year on its own
Dying of a cancer caused by infection also comes in highly, linked to 3,421 cancer deaths a year. Infections such as human papilloma virus - which can cause cervical cancer in women - and hepatitis - can be prevented by vaccinations and having regular check-ups
Cutting back on drinks could reduce the risk of cancers caused by alcohol - such as liver cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer and mouth cancer - that are leading to 3,208 deaths a year
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Sitting around and not getting the heart pumping - less than one hour's exercise a day - is directly leading to about 1,800 people having lower immune functions and higher hormone levels, among other factors, that cause cancers
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Hormone replacement therapy, which is used to relieve symptoms of the menopause in women, caused 539 deaths from (mainly breast) cancer in Australia last year. It did, however, prevent 52 cases of colorectal cancers
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Insufficient breastfeeding, bizarrely, makes the top 10. Breastfeeding for 12 months could prevent 235 cancer cases a year, said the research
Oral contraceptives, like the Pill, caused about 105 breast cancers and 52 cervical cancers - but it also prevented about 1,440 ovarian and uterine (womb) cases of cancer last year
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Taking aspirin also prevented 232 cases in the Queensland research of colorectal and oesophagal cancers - but as it can also cause strokes, is not yet recommended as a formal treatment against the risk of cancer
A Department of Health spokesperson told the newspaper that cancer survival rates were “actually now at a record high”.
“The NHS treated over 110,000 patients – 82% – within the target of 62 days last year, as the NHS rises to the challenge of an increase in urgent referrals for suspected cancer of over 90 per cent compared to 2009/10,” they added.Reuse content