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Lord Robert Winston
"This is a very complex issue"
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Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper
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Monday, 15 May, 2000, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
Cancer cases missed by doctors
Cancer care is under the microscope
More cases of patients whose cancer was missed by doctors have emerged.

Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper has responded by promising to raise standards of cancer care in the NHS.

The new cases have come to light following the publicity given to Barnsley businessman Steve Harley, whose oral cancer has become inoperable after it was repeatedly missed by a succession of doctors over an eight-month period.

The BBC Today programme highlighted the case of Max Carter, whose cancer of the spine was misdiagnosed several times by different doctors.

Because of the late diagnosis, I am now incurable

Cancer patient Max Carter

He said: "Because of the late diagnosis, I am now incurable.

"I have had four recurrences, numerous operations, including reconstructive surgery and more radiotherapy than I care to think about.

"Now if things had been sorted out - as they should have been done - much earlier, there is a strong likelihood I would not be in the situation I am in today."

Cancer death

The Daily Mail highlighted the case of James McFarland, who died from lung cancer in January.

Mr McFarland's wife Pearl said her husband was given the all-clear by doctors 20 times before he was diagnosed - by which time it had spread from his lungs into his spine, liver, hip and legs.

Yvette Cooper
Public health minister Yvette Cooper said standards could be improved
During the numerous times he saw doctors he was regularly given painkillers and was once prescribed Prozac.

Mr McFarland died 11 days after the correct diagnosis was made.

His widow told the Daily Mail: "I watched him dying.

"We were both very frightened but we couldn't get anyone to listen until it was too late."

Derriford Hospital, in Devon, has said it is preparing a "full explanation" for Mrs McFarland.

The Sun features the case of 52-year-old Bill Stewart, who says doctors at Barnsley District General Hospital gave him the all-clear despite four months of tests for a stomach complaint which turned out to be pancreatic cancer.

His condition was only discovered when he went to another hospital for a second opinion.

How can one hospital fail to diagnose a problem and another down the road realise straight away you are terminally ill?

Cancer patient Bill Stewart

The tumour was so large it was inoperable, and Mr Stewart has been given six months to live.

He told The Sun: "I don't know whether to laugh or cry. How can one hospital fail to diagnose a problem and another down the road realise straight away you are terminally ill?"

Complex problem

Fertility expert and Labour peer Lord Robert Winston told the BBC cancer was a complex disease, and warned that it may be difficult for GPs to spot.

He said: "It is a worry that GPs have so much influence on what happens to the patient subsequently.

"A GP may only see one case of bowel cancer every five years, he may only see one case of throat cancer even less often, and he has got to spot that one case out of all the hundreds of people who come to him with pain in the abdomen which might mimic bowel cancer, or pain in the head which might mimic throat cancer."

"It is very easy to under-estimate that task."

Mrs Cooper said it was clear cancer services could be improved in the UK.

She said national referral guidelines had been issued to GPs to help them deal with cancer patients.

She said a national cancer plan was also being drawn up to improve services.

"We have got to make sure that we can get people tested as fast as possible, and diagnosed as quickly as possible."

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