Rapid Diagnostic and Assessment Centre

The importance of early diagnosis in cancer

Earlier and faster diagnosis is often the key to successfully treating cancer, advancements in early diagnosis are making a difference to patients everywhere.

Researcher

Why is early diagnosis key? 

When a patient's cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, there is a much greater chance of being able to treat the disease successfully, often with less invasive procedures and fewer long-term side effects. But too many people are being diagnosed with cancer at later stages.

It’s also important that we diagnose cancers as fast as possible so that treatment can start quickly, as accurately as possible - for example, identifying the genetic make-up of an individual’s tumour tells us how best to treat it - and that we diagnose relapse as early as possible. 

At The Royal Marsden we are continually working to improve early diagnosis for patients, from carrying out pioneering genetic sequencing to identify mutations that mean an individual has a higher risk of developing cancer , through to regular screenings of those with a genetic pre-disposition to certain cancers.

The charity has also funded a new early diagnosis consultant, to specifically support this area of work. Read our Q&A with him. 

Finding out about the inherited condition meant I went onto the screening programme and was able to catch this early. My experience at The Royal Marsden restored my faith in humanity.

Russell – Royal Marsden patient on regular screening programme for bowel cancer
Dr Richard Lee

Dr Richard Lee - Consultant in Early Diagnosis

How would you describe your role?
I joined The Royal Marsden in 2018 as a respiratory consultant and champion for the early diagnosis of cancer. I’m funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and conduct research across all tumour types, looking into how we can improve clinical practice. I also liaise with other partner organisations on innovative new projects. With our expertise in research, diagnosis and treatment, we aim to make a difference to people’s lives across the UK.

Why is early diagnosis important for patients?
The NHS has calculated that we can save 55,000 additional lives every year by diagnosing more cancers early. When cancer is diagnosed at this stage, there is a much greater chance of being able to treat it successfully – often with less invasive procedures and fewer long-term side effects. By using detailed imaging techniques and genetic analysis, we hope to accurately differentiate small, early stage tumours from other benign diagnoses. This would mean we can carefully monitor that patient and follow up with the best treatment when it’s needed. We also monitor patients for signs of relapse: the earlier we can pick up cancer returning, the better chance we have of successfully managing it.

What is The Royal Marsden doing to help?
We’re working on a range of initiatives. For example, we are working with hospitals across London through an alliance called RM Partners to carry out lung health checks and low-dose CT scans for people at risk of developing lung cancer. We are also providing easier access to clinics to increase the uptake of cervical screening, and working with GPs to speed up the time between diagnosis and treatment for patients with symptoms of colorectal cancer.
 

What has been your experience of The Royal Marsden so far?
It really is an inspirational place to work. We’re incredibly thankful for the Charity and its supporters. With their continued support, we can drive forward much-needed improvements in vital areas such  as early diagnosis.

You can follow Richard on twitter @ChestConsultant to get the latest updates about early diagnosis. 

We could save 55,000 additional lives every year by diagnosing more cancers early

Dr Richard Lee