Prospective Cohort of Referrals to a Cancer of Unknown Primary Clinic, including Direct Access from Primary Care

A Creak
Clinical Oncology: a Journal of the Royal College of Radiologists 2020, 32 (4): e87-e92

AIMS: The UK National Health Service has well-developed site-specific referral pathways for patients with suspected cancer, but historically there has been inequality of access for patients with suspected Metastatic malignant disease of Unknown primary Origin (MUO). The Brighton cancer of unknown primary (CUP) clinic covers a population of about 650 000. As well as 'in-house' referrals, direct general practitioner referrals are also accepted (since 2015), aiming to shorten the diagnostic pathway and improve patient support. We present data from the first 3 years of activity.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Referrals were screened by an oncologist, ensuring adherence to the strict referral criterion of imaging evidence of a suspected diagnosis of MUO. A standardised data collection form was completed at each clinic appointment by the CUP team. Outcomes were cross-checked against clinic lists, letters and multidisciplinary meeting (MDM) records. A data analysis was carried out of all referrals to the CUP clinic (2015-2018), including general practitioner referrals.

RESULTS: In total, 258 patients were seen in the CUP clinic in the first 3 years. The median age was 71 years (range 23-95 years). Source of referral: general practitioner (30%); physician (27%); acute oncology (24%); other MDM (16%); surgeon (3%). A final diagnosis of cancer was made in 83% of referrals, with a primary site identified in 83% of those cancer cases: 19% haematological, 11% lung, 9% urological, 8% upper gastrointestinal, 6% breast, 5% skin, 4% gynaecological, 4% lower gastrointestinal, 0.3% thyroid and 0.3% sarcoma. 10% of referrals remained with a MUO diagnosis (not fit for further investigation) and 7% had confirmed CUP. 17% had a benign diagnosis (of which 56% were general practitioner referrals). Of the general practitioner referrals: 55% were seen in the CUP clinic, 31% did not meet referral criteria and 14% were declined after MDM review of imaging confirmed benign appearances.

CONCLUSION: The development of direct general practitioner referrals to CUP clinics nationally should be encouraged (as supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) - they are feasible and manageable within a tertiary CUP clinic, resulting in high rates of cancer diagnoses, with attendant early support from specialist nursing teams and oncological review.

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