A study for the Irish Cancer Society has found that around 3,000 cancers are diagnosed each year in hospital emergency departments.

Three in every four cases are at an advanced stage and most cases involve people over 65 years of age.

Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society, said the number of patients being diagnosed with cancer in emergency departments is worrying.

He said that 14% of cancers diagnosed in Ireland between 2010 and 2015 were emergency presentations through hospitals, and the overwhelming majority of these were at a late stage.

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Mr Buggy said that by the time a patient arrives in an emergency department, they are probably not only presenting with acute symptoms, but wracked with worry and fearful about what happens next.  

"Unfortunately, a late diagnosis often means fewer treatment options are available and a reduced chance of survival. Urgent steps need to be taken so people get diagnosed earlier," he said.

The study found that cancer patients from the most disadvantaged communities are 50% more likely to be diagnosed via emergency presentation, than those from the most affluent communities.

Certain cancers had an especially high proportion of emergency presentations: pancreas (34%), liver (34%), brain/central nervous system (34%) leukaemia (27%), lung (26%), ovary (24%), colon (22%) and stomach (20%).

The cancers involved exclude non-melanoma skin cancers.

The research for the society was conducted by the National Cancer Registry of Ireland.

Read more:
Irish Cancer Society Report: Diagnosing cancer in an emergency
Majority of lung cancer cases diagnosed in emergency departments

The society has proposed a number of measures to deal with emergency presentation of cancers and these include:

  • Developing diagnostics in the GP and community services
  • Direct access to diagnostics in hospitals for GPs
  • Cutting waiting times for access to diagnostic tests for public cancer patients
  • A significant incident case review for cancer patients diagnosed as an emergency