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The Royal Marsden Healthcare experts

The sooner, the better

Discovering cancers earlier is the key to treating patients successfully, says Dr Richard Lee, Consultant in Early Diagnosis

22 April 2021

Dr Richard Lee, Consultant in Early Diagnosis

We know that by diagnosing more cancers early, we could save thousands of lives every year. When cancer is caught sooner, we have a much greater chance of being able to treat it successfully, often with less invasive procedures and fewer long-term side effects.

But we are faced with challenges. Some cancers – such as pancreatic, ovarian and lung – often don’t cause any symptoms until they become advanced. People can also be too embarrassed to talk about their symptoms, or too scared of what they might find.

Equally, many cancers cause vague symptoms that are more likely to be something less serious, so it can be difficult for GPs to know when to refer patients to us, particularly during the pandemic.

I’m a champion of the early diagnosis of cancer, working across all tumour types and investigating how we can improve clinical practice and research in this field. We’re working on a range of initiatives to help.

We’re exploring how breath tests could help diagnose some cancers

Dr Richard Lee, Consultant in Early Diagnosis

For example, with RM Partners, the West London Cancer Alliance, we’re carrying out ‘lung health checks’ and low-dose CT scans for people at risk of lung cancer. I lead this initiative nationally as part of an NHS England pilot that will scan more than 100,000 patients to find treatable lung cancer earlier.

Another project – the award-winning RAPID (Rapid Assessment Prostate Imaging and Diagnosis) pathway – aims to detect prostate cancer faster.

We’ve also developed a new streamlined journey from GP to treatment for patients with symptoms of colorectal cancer, and are promoting a telephone reminder service to encourage participation in the national bowel screening programme. It’s important that we help our GP colleagues to spot the signs of cancer through our education events and online learning resources.

With our colleagues at Imperial College London, we are exploring how breath tests could be used to diagnose certain cancers. If our research has positive results, we could diagnose some cancer types early through this quick and non-invasive method.

With our combined expertise in research, diagnosis and treatment, we aim to make a difference to people’s lives in the UK and beyond, ensuring that no one gets left behind.