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Exeter expertise helps underpin new cancer guidelines

Research by the University of Exeter has helped underline new national guidelines to help GPs diagnose cancer earlier, and save lives.

Professor Willie Hamilton, at the University of Exeter Medical School, was a major contributor to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s (NICE) process to consider the latest evidence in formulating new guidelines for use in general practice and healthcare settings.  He was the clinical lead on the NICE Guideline Group, feeding in his expertise into key decisions that affect the way healthcare is delivered.

The new guidance aims to support GPs to identify and refer possible cancers earlier, the most important factor in catching them when they can still be treated and before they become fatal. The guidance will open the door to more testing and smarter testing, so that more people can be successfully treated.

Professor Hamilton, who is also an Exeter GP, said: “When you look at the statistics, Britain is lagging behind other countries in terms of cancer survival and one of the big reasons for this is late diagnosis.  We know that late diagnosis alone is responsible for thousands of deaths every year. This updated guideline will help to change that. It will open the door for more testing - smarter testing - so that people with cancer will receive their diagnosis much earlier. There is no doubt in my mind that this guideline will help to save lives.”

NICE considered research from a number of leading universities in formulating its guidance, including a significant proportion from Exeter. Since January 2014, Professor Hamilton and his prolific team have produced 35 papers in leading academic journals around the theme of early diagnosis. Among the topics, they have revealed that prolonged and otherwise unexplained swollen glands could indicate the cancer lymphoma, and they have revealed that black men are less willing to be investigated for prostate cancer, which is more prevalent and causes more deaths in their demographic group.

Alongside cutting-edge research, the  Exeter team has created a range of tools to aid GPs in cancer diagnosis. They have produced simple charts for 14 of the most common cancers, which can now be found in GP surgeries in the form of products including mouse mats, and have also been incorporated into NHS diagnosis software. Professor Hamilton said: “Catching cancer early can be the difference between life and death. Clearly GPs want to get it right, but with more than 200 cancers – some with obscure and unexpected symptoms and indicators – it’s crucial that they have as much clear support as possible to help them make swift and accurate judgement calls.”

You can read the new guidelines here.

Date: 24 June 2015

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