Care for incurable cancer is “second rate”
This article was first published in the Times (15 July) and is written by Chris Smyth.
Thousands of patients with incurable cancer are condemned to second-rate care, a report today warns.
Patients are ignored by doctors, suffer delays in treatment and only get help when they go to A&E.
Progress in treating early stage breast cancer has made the NHS complacent about what happens if the disease returns, according to campaigners.
More than 50,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in Britain every year, with screening and awareness campaigns meaning most are caught at a stage when tumours can be effectively treated with surgery and drugs.
However, thousands of women find their disease returning and spreading around the body and it is this that kills more than 11,000 a year. The charity Breast Cancer Care warned that a focus on the early stages means those women whose cancers return are often condemned to poor care.
A third of patients said doctors did not listen to them when they spoke of dangerous symptoms, according to a survey of more than 800 women with an advanced form of the disease.
A fifth are wrongly treated for another condition, meaning months of delays before they see a specialist. The charity said doctors must be warned of red flag symptoms such as back pain, unexplained weight loss and nausea.
Patients described how they were made to feel they were “making a fuss” and told “everybody gets backache, you’re at the age”. One in 12 patients only found out they had advanced cancer when they went to A&E, suggesting the condition had been repeatedly missed.
Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of the charity said: “Today’s report paints an extremely worrying picture. Our findings uncover the true extent of inadequate care for people with incurable breast cancer, from feeling they’re not taken seriously when they raise concerns, to facing avoidable delays to a diagnosis, or being told the news in A&E. This is absolutely unacceptable. Prompt diagnosis is crucial to help control severe symptoms and allow people with incurable breast cancer to make every day count.”
Patients contrasted the “pink tsunami of support” when they first received a diagnosis with the “hushed, sympathetic voices” when they found out their cancer had spread, with women often told little about their outlook or options.
The charity said it was unacceptable that four in five patients under 45 only found out they had breast cancer when advanced disease was discovered, drastically limiting their life expectancy.
Mia Rosenblatt of the charity Breast Cancer Now, said: “Our health service is falling short for people with secondary breast cancer. The unique needs and concerns of these women are just not being sufficiently recognised by the health system. If we are to enable women to live well with secondary breast cancer, they need rapid diagnosis and immediate specialist care, not delays and unanswered questions.”