A survey of patients treated for cancer on the NHS in England shows that blood cancers are still taking longer to be diagnosed than other types of cancer. The blood cancer patients are needed to see their GP three or more times before being referred to a specialist.

This compares to less than a quarter (23%) of cancer patients overall and represents a slight increase from the 2016 survey when 35.2% of blood cancer patients needed to see their GP three or more times before being referred to a specialist.

This is the seventh annual Cancer Patient Experience Survey, with 69,000 people treated for cancer in England responding to the questionnaire in 2017.  The 59 questions covered all aspects of cancer care, including diagnosis, access to information, quality of care and support provided after treatment.

"We have known for a long time that people with blood cancer can struggle to get a diagnosis and it often takes longer for GPs to refer them to hospital. People with myeloma, in particular, have to visit their GPs many more times on average before being sent to a specialist," said Phil Reynolds, Policy Manager at the blood cancer research charity Bloodwise.

Blood cancer symptoms 

"This can be explained by some factors, including a lack of awareness of blood cancer symptoms and the ease with which many symptoms can be confused with more common conditions," said Reynolds.

"For some types of blood cancer, early diagnosis can have a significant impact on outcome for patients.  This latest Cancer Patient Experience Survey shows that much more still needs to be done to improve care in this area," added Reynolds.

While the survey showed that improvements were being seen in some areas for blood cancer, it also highlighted areas where patients are facing different issues and are having poorer experiences of care than patients with other types of cancer.

People with blood cancer were more likely to experience a degree of confusion around their diagnosis, with just 59% ‘completely understanding’ the explanation they were given of what was wrong with them compared to 73% of cancer patients in general. 

Only 46.4% of blood cancer patients said that they were told about the possible long-term side effects of their treatment. Being assigned a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) has consistently been shown to have a significantly positive impact on people’s experience of cancer treatment

In this year’s survey, 91% of patients with blood cancer (and 91% of cancer patients overall) reported that they had been given the name of a CNS to support them through their treatment.

This represents a significant improvement up from 85% in 2013. Access to a CNS varies greatly by different NHS trusts across the country, however, and there are still thousands of people with blood cancer missing out.