Emergency diagnosis of cancer and previous general practice consultations: insights from linked patient survey data

25 Sep 2017

BACKGROUND: Emergency diagnosis of cancer is common and aetiologically complex. The proportion of emergency presenters who have consulted previously with relevant symptoms is uncertain. AIM: To examine how many patients with cancer, who were diagnosed as emergencies, have had previous primary care consultations with relevant symptoms; and among those, to examine how many had multiple consultations. DESIGN AND SETTING: Secondary analysis of patient survey data from the 2010 English Cancer Patient Experience Survey (CPES), previously linked to population-based data on diagnostic route. METHOD: For emergency presenters with 18 different cancers, associations were examined for two outcomes (prior GP consultation status; and 'three or more consultations' among prior consultees) using logistic regression. RESULTS: Among 4647 emergency presenters, 1349 (29%) reported no prior consultations, being more common in males (32% versus 25% in females, P<0.001), older (44% in ≥85 versus 30% in 65-74-year-olds, P<0.001), and the most deprived (35% versus 25% least deprived, P = 0.001) patients; and highest/lowest for patients with brain cancer (46%) and mesothelioma (13%), respectively (P<0.001 for overall variation by cancer site). Among 3298 emergency presenters with prior consultations, 1356 (41%) had three or more consultations, which were more likely in females (P<0.001), younger (P<0.001), and non-white patients (P = 0.017) and those with multiple myeloma, and least likely for patients with leukaemia (P<0.001). CONCLUSION: Contrary to suggestions that emergency presentations represent missed diagnoses, about one-third of emergency presenters (particularly those in older and more deprived groups) have no prior GP consultations. Furthermore, only about one-third report multiple (three or more) consultations, which are more likely in 'harder-to-suspect' groups.