Diagnosing cancer in primary care: Results from the National Cancer Diagnosis Audit

R. Swann, Sean McPhail, B. Shand, J. Rashbass, J. Witt, G. A. Abel, S. Hiom, Georgios Lyratzopoulos, G. Rubin

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44 Citations (Scopus)


Background Continual improvements in diagnostic processes are needed to minimise the proportion of patients with cancer who experience diagnostic delays. Clinical audit is a means of achieving this. Aim To characterise key aspects of the diagnostic process for cancer and to generate baseline measures for future re-audit. Design and setting Clinical audit of cancer diagnosis in general practices in England. Method Information on patient and tumour characteristics held in the English National Cancer Registry was supplemented by information from GPs in participating practices. Data items included diagnostic timepoints, patient characteristics, and clinical management. Results Data were collected on 17 042 patients with a new diagnosis of cancer during 2014 from 439 practices. Participating practices were similar to non-participating ones, particularly regarding population age, urban/rural location, and practice-based patient experience measures. The median diagnostic interval for all patients was 40 days (interquartile range [IQR] 15–86 days). Most patients were referred promptly (median primary care interval 5 days [IQR 0–27 days]). Where GPs deemed diagnostic delays to have occurred (22% of cases), patient, clinician, or system factors were responsible in 26%, 28%, and 34% of instances, respectively. Safety netting was recorded for 44% of patients. At least one primary care-led investigation was carried out for 45% of patients. Most patients (76%) had at least one existing comorbid condition; 21% had three or more. Conclusion The findings identify avenues for quality improvement activity and provide a baseline for future audit of the impact of 2015 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance on management and referral of suspected cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e63-e72
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number666
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • Cancer
  • Clinical audit
  • Diagnosis
  • Investigations
  • Morbidity
  • Primary care


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