Some patients with bowel cancer are being denied life-saving surgery and are given end-of-life care instead, according to a new report.
The study, from the charity Bowel Cancer UK, found that specialist doctors who could operate are being shut out of decisions on care, which then condemns patients to having palliative chemotherapy.
More than 41,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the UK, with around a quarter of those (10,000 people) diagnosed at late stage 4.
Fewer than one in 10 people (8%) at this advanced stage manage to survive for five years or more, compared with 98% of those diagnosed in the earliest stage.
At stage 4, the cancer has spread around the body, usually to the liver or lungs.
Despite recommendations that those for whom the cancer has spread to their liver (a fifth of all patients) are reviewed by a liver specialist, research suggests many are not.
Research carried out by charity Bowel Cancer UK found specialist doctors were being shut out of decisions on care, which then condemns patients to having palliative chemotherapy
A study from Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust found that 63% of 53 patients whose bowel cancer had spread to their liver could have had curative liver surgery but were instead treated with palliative chemotherapy and were not reviewed by a specialist surgeon.
Bowel cancer facts
Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer – every half an hour someone dies of the disease
Each year around 16,000 people die of bowel cancer
In the UK around 41,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK
Around 110 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every day, that’s someone every 15 minutes
Bowel cancer affects both men and women
If diagnosed early, more than 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully
Five year survival rates for bowel cancer have doubled over the last 40 years
The majority (95%) of bowel cancer cases occur in people over 50, but it can affect anyone of any age
Research shows that up to 74% of patients who do undergo liver surgery for their cancer survive for five years after the operation, compared to a survival rate of six to 22 months for those who are just given chemotherapy.
Stephen Fenwick, consultant hepatobiliary surgeon at Aintree University Hospital said: ‘The evidence is clear. The involvement of specialist surgeons in treatment decisions can increase the chance of advanced bowel cancer patients being offered potentially curative treatment options.
‘This can lead to patients’ lives being extended or even cured.’
people with advanced bowel cancer.
‘We must do more to transform survival chances for advanced bowel cancer patients and access to specialist surgery is a vital component to ensure lives are not needlessly lost.’
The charity conducted a poll of 111 people with advanced bowel cancer and found that 21% of those whose cancer had spread to the liver did not have a liver specialist involved in their treatment plan, while 37% did not have liver surgery.
One survey respondent said: ‘The first MDT (multidisciplinary team) I saw said my liver metastases were inoperable after 18 cycles of chemotherapy.
‘I had to seek a second opinion from another MDT, which was very far from home. This MDT said I was operable.’
More than 41,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the UK, with around a quarter of those (10,000 people) diagnosed at late stage 4