GPs are commonly delaying cancer diagnosis of patients presenting with common symptoms, according to an Australian study.

The BMJ Open study found a recurring delay in cancer diagnosis, despite GPs having access to relevant diagnostic tests, identified by researchers from seven Australian Universities.

Symptom misattribution, lack of proper examination and poor investigation of malignancies were identified as common problems throughout the study.

In more than one-in-eight cases, patients with cancer-suggestive symptoms were either not investigated or referred, and patient management varied significantly by cancer type.

The study involved 102 GPs who reviewed 24 small videos and case notes of patients with cancer symptoms, indicating whether they would refer the patient, prescribe medication or undertake further investigation.

According to the BMJ Open researchers, “There was limited evidence that appropriate tests would be ordered, and a significant proportion of cases were not immediately referred for further investigation or specialist opinion.”

Yet, all patient cases involved in the study warranted specialist investigation within two weeks, and the cases were typical and devoid of distracting features.

“The participants appeared to have different views on how to manage patients with cancer symptoms.”

The design of the study did not examine the reasons behind the GP’s decisions.