More cancers are being diagnosed through emergency routes in the UK than in other comparable, high-income countries, according to a study published in The Lancet Oncology.

The study looked at more than 850,000 cancer cases in Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and the UK over a five-year period from 2012-2017.

The researchers found large international disparities in proportions of emergency cancer presentations, with the lowest proportion in the Australian state of Victoria at 24%, while the highest at 42.5% in New Zealand.

The UK had the second highest rate of emergency discoveries at 37% in England, 37.4% in Wales and 3.5% in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, where a different accounting procedure was used, 27.9% of patients presented in emergency settings.

The researchers note that in England, Wales and Scotland, a broader definition of ‘emergency presentation’ was used than in Northern Ireland, which could account for the higher levels seen in these countries.

Emergency cancer presentations are a global problem

 Lead researcher Professor Georgios Lyratzopoulos (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health) said the study has given “valuable insights” into which patients and cancers are more likely to be diagnosed in an emergency setting.

“The data tell us that emergency presentations are a global problem – and not concentrated in a single country or health system. Getting better at preventing cancer, detecting it through screening, or diagnosing it soon after symptoms appear can help decrease emergency presentations and reduce cancer deaths. This message applies to Canada, Europe and Oceania, as well as the UK,” he said.

Prof Lyratzopoulos hopes the study will highlight the need for better awareness of early cancer symptoms and reduced barriers to cancer screenings, in order to improve outcomes.

Cancer Research UK want to see the government take “bold action” to reduce emergency cancer presentations

Sadly, experts are warning that as a result of the Covid pandemic, the reality of the situation is likely to now be much worse.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said they have long been warning that cancer survival “could go backwards” because of the pandemic, and we now need to learn from comparable countries and ensure “fewer patients are being diagnosed with cancer after an emergency referral or trip to A&E.”

She said: “We’d like to see governments across the UK take bold action on this within their cancer plans – so that by 2032, fewer than 5 percent of cancer cases are diagnosed through emergency routes.”