MORE than 80 per cent of cancers diagnosed by GPs are spotted in the first two consultations, according to a new study which involved North-East scientists.

Researchers from Durham University, Cambridge University and Bangor University also found that more than half of patients were referred to see a specialist at the first appointment.

The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at data from over 13,000 patients to measure the promptness of cancer diagnosis in primary care.

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They found that 82 per cent of people were referred after two visits, with over half of patients (58 per cent) referred to a specialist after the first visit.

The study has also revealed that some cancers are proving harder to spot in the first few consultations, such as lung cancer and myeloma. This may be because they often produce symptoms that are common and not unique to cancer, so can be mistaken for less serious conditions.

The findings show that, the more consultations a patient needs, the greater number of weeks between first presentation and referral. With most of the patients who have these harder-to-spot cancers, it takes longer before there is a suspicion of cancer and they are seen by hospital specialists.

Last year, the Royal College of General Practitioners, in partnership with Cancer Research UK, launched a five-year programme to improve early diagnosis of cancer in general practice, and appointed Durham University's Greg Rubin as the first ever Clinical Lead for Cancer.

Co-author Greg Rubin, professor of primary care at Durham University, said: "We've found that most patients who go to their GP with cancer symptoms are being promptly referred to a specialist. NICE referral guidelines have helped people with classic symptoms to be seen more quickly but, for patients with less typical symptoms, the decision to refer isn't always as simple.

"Reducing the number of pre-referral consultations can result in a more timely diagnosis of cancer. We need to consider ways of making the process of primary care assessment even smarter, for instance by wider use of clinical decision support tools or more efficient investigation pathways."