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How long do patients wait for cancer diagnosis and treatment? The NHS monitors performance standards relating to cancer testing, treatment and care. In England, when a GP urgently refers a patient with suspected cancer that patient should have their first appointment with a specialist within two weeks. If the patient goes on to receive treatment for cancer, this should occur within two months of the original urgent GP referral. In addition, whenever a decision is taken to treat a patient for cancer, the treatment should occur within 31 days.

In 2014 there were 1.5m urgent GP referrals with suspected cancer. This was 53% higher than in 2010. Around one quarter of all cancer diagnoses occur after urgent GP referral via the ‘two week’ pathway. Waiting times performance for these patients remains within the standard for 93% to see a specialist within two weeks of referral.

In 2014, 272,000 patients began a first treatment for cancer, of which 129,000 had previously been urgently referred by their GP. The number beginning treatment has risen by 12% over four years. The percentage of those starting treatment who began their pathway with an urgent GP referral has risen over the past four years. In the last year, performance has fallen below the target for 85% of these patients to be treated within two months of GP referral.

This note provides detailed statistics on the above targets, along with a range of other cancer waiting times measures in England. Data is also presented for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In addition, background information is given on how people are diagnosed with cancer, along with information on how diagnosis through emergency routes is related to lower survival rates.


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