Emergency diagnosis of cancer is common and aetiologically complex. The proportion of emergency presenters who have consulted previously with relevant symptoms is uncertain.
To examine how many patients with cancer, who were diagnosed as emergencies, have had previous primary care consultations with relevant symptoms; and among those, to examine how many had multiple consultations.
Secondary analysis of patient survey data from the 2010 English Cancer Patient Experience Survey (CPES), previously linked to population-based data on diagnostic route.
For emergency presenters with 18 different cancers, associations were examined for two outcomes (prior GP consultation status; and 'three or more consultations' among prior consultees) using logistic regression.
Among 4647 emergency presenters, 1349 (29%) reported no prior consultations, being more common in males (32% versus 25% in females, P<0.001), older (44% in ≥85 versus 30% in 65-74-year-olds, P<0.001), and the most deprived (35% versus 25% least deprived, P = 0.001) patients; and highest/lowest for patients with brain cancer (46%) and mesothelioma (13%), respectively (P<0.001 for overall variation by cancer site). Among 3298 emergency presenters with prior consultations, 1356 (41%) had three or more consultations, which were more likely in females (P<0.001), younger (P<0.001), and non-white patients (P = 0.017) and those with multiple myeloma, and least likely for patients with leukaemia (P<0.001).
Contrary to suggestions that emergency presentations represent missed diagnoses, about one-third of emergency presenters (particularly those in older and more deprived groups) have no prior GP consultations. Furthermore, only about one-third report multiple (three or more) consultations, which are more likely in 'harder-to-suspect' groups.