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Video: Our medical director, Dr Jesme Fox, and researchers from University College London, Kings College London & the University of Liverpool, talk about the value of lung cancer research.

Research suggests GPs struggle to spot lung cancer

A research project funded by Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation has found one in three lung cancer sufferers die within 90 days of diagnosis, suggesting GPs are struggling to spot early signs of the disease.

Respiratory physician Dr Emma O'Dowd who carried out the research at Nottingham University, said family doctors needed more help in recognising patients at a high risk of lung cancer.

The research found that of those who die within three months of discovering the cancer, one in 10 die within a month while one in 20 are not diagnosed until they have died.

Dr O'Dowd said "surprisingly" her research found that those who are given a late diagnosis on average visited their GP five times in the few months beforehand, countering a common preconception that they would not seek medical attention.

It was therefore "key" to find out what symptoms they were displaying in those consultations, she said, and how they could be better identified by GPs as being linked to lung cancer.

She said: "We're losing a lot of patients early on. I wanted to find out more about these patients who died early and if there are features that can help us to diagnose them earlier.

"I started off with the preconception that people who died early didn't ever see their GP. Actually, they saw their GPs more before diagnosis compared to those patients which lived longer.

"That was a surprising finding but obviously with this piece of work we can see specifically what symptoms they have come in with.

"Lung cancer can be difficult for doctors to distinguish from other lung diseases so we need to give them some tools that will help identify a patient as high risk.

"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.

"It's not that we're trying to blame the GPs but if we have tools to identify these high risk people earlier than we should put them to use."

Dr O'Dowd, whose research has been published in the British Medical Journal, added that most GPs are only likely to see one new case of lung cancer a year which is why it is important to promote risk assessment tools.

New software is being developed for doctors that would flag up the risk of lung cancer in patients by tracking their symptoms and lifestyle.

Dr O'Dowd used data from The Health Improvement Network (THIN), which contains the anonymous health records of millions of primary care patients across the UK. The team analysed 20,142 cases of lung cancer recorded by 444 general practices during the study period.

This vital research is made possible by the generous support of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation supporters.

You can listen to Dr Emma O’Dowd’s interview concerning the research on BBC Radio West Midlands here: the interview begins at 37 minutes 53 seconds.

Further research updates

Spontaneous smoking cessation prior to a lung cancer diagnosis: Dr Josie Evans: University of Stirling

MicroRNA biomarkers in surrogate airway tissues for early lung cancer detection: University of Liverpool: Dr Triantafillos Liloglou

Infrared Spectral Biomarkers of Lung Cancer Risk: Professor Sam Janes: University College London

RCRT: Feasibility of establishing a cohort of lung cancer patients treated with curative intent [CIn] radiotherapy [RT] to gather patient reported outcomes

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