THE time taken to diagnose some of the more common cancers fell by an average of five days in just under a decade, according to new research.

Researchers based at the Universities of Durham, Bangor and Exeter found that the average time it took to be diagnosed for a range of common cancers combined fell from 125 days in 2001-2002 to 120 days in 2007-2008.

And for kidney, head and neck, and bladder cancers, more than two weeks were shaved off the time between first reporting a possible symptom and receiving a diagnosis.

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This improvement may be thanks to the introduction of National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guidelines for Urgent Referral of Suspected Cancer, issued to GPs in 2005.

The researchers looked at the records of 20,000 people aged over 40 in England who were diagnosed with one of 15 types of common cancers in the two periods, having reported possible symptoms to their GP in the year before their diagnosis.

They also found that patients whose symptoms were prioritised by the 2005 guidelines took less time to be diagnosed, and breast and testicular cancers were diagnosed in the shortest time – on average about two months between first reported symptom and diagnosis.

But for 10 per cent of myeloma, lung or gastric cancer patients it took more than 10 months to be diagnosed.

Professor Greg Rubin, study author from Durham University and clinical lead for cancer for the Royal College of GPs and Cancer Research UK partnership, said: “Diagnosing cancers early can make a real difference to survival.

"We know that patients’ chances of beating the disease are better when the disease is caught early as treatments are more effective before the cancer begins to grow or spread.”