Prostate cancer patients get worse care than other cancer patients

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 19 January 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:139
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

    Patients with cancer are receiving better care from the NHS in England than five years ago, but many are still waiting too long to see a specialist after being referred by their GP, a new report says. It warns that provision of specialist care for prostate cancer is a lower priority than for other common cancers.

    The report, Tackling Cancer: Improving the Patient Journey, assessed the progress made since the introduction of the NHS Cancer Plan, a national strategy introduced in 2000 to improve cancer services. The plan was based on a range of information on service provision, including a national survey of 4300 patients with the four commonest cancers (breast, lung, bowel, and prostate) in 49 NHS trusts.

    The report found that referral times had improved since 2000, but 40% of patients eventually diagnosed with cancer still waited more than two weeks to see a specialist after referral by their GP. The report warns, “Delays heighten patient anxiety and may have adverse consequences for the course of the disease.”

    Eighty per cent of patients with suspected breast cancer are currently seen within two weeks, and the Public Accounts Committee, which developed the report as part of its role in examining public expenditure, recommended that cancer networks should aspire to this standard for all patients with suspected major cancers.

    Provision of specialist care for patients with prostate cancer seemed to be a lower priority than for other major cancers, such as breast cancer. More than two thirds (68%) of patients with prostate cancer waited longer than two weeks from referral by a GP to be seen by a specialist, compared with 37% of people with other cancers. They were also less likely than patients with other cancers to report that they had received full information on their treatment, to have a named nurse in charge of their care, and to be given information about support groups.

    Embedded Image

    Ultrasound scan through a cancerous prostate gland


    The report called for an indepth look at the standard of prostate services in England as well as the reasons for deficiencies and suggested that cancer networks should implement action plans for improvements where problems are identified.

    The report also found uneven access to care for patients who were dying. Current levels of availability of specialist palliative care varied around the country and did not necessarily reflect areas with high cancer death rates.

    The Midlands and East region, for example, had 60% fewer inpatient beds per thousand cancer deaths than the London regions. To help redress this regional imbalance, the department of health has commissioned the National Council for Palliative Care to produce a palliative care needs assessment based on population.

    Derryn Borley, head of cancer support services with the cancer information charity CancerBACUP, said, “This report and others like it show that we need a second cancer plan to address vital areas where cancer patients aren't receiving good enough treatment and care.”


    The report, Tackling Cancer: Improving the Patient Journey is available at

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