Health

Set up specialist teams for neglected cancer, says NICE

Image caption NICE recommends that specialist nurses should care for people with unexplained cancer

Specialist cancer teams should be set up to treat patients with cancer that has spread from an unknown location in the body, says a health organisation.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) wants to improve the care of people with "cancer of unknown primary".

Nice said it was a "very neglected cancer" and called for specialist teams in every hospital with a cancer unit.

More than 10,000 people each year are diagnosed with it in England and Wales.

Compared to people with a specific type of cancer such as breast, lung or prostate, people with "cancer of unknown primary" - or CUP - suffer from a lack of information and understanding, NICE says.

NICE recommends cancer services for this group of patients should be re-organised to tackle the current inequality in care they often receive.

It advises specialist CUP teams should be in place in every hospital with a cancer unit, consisting of an oncologist, a specialist CUP nurse and a palliative care physician.

Specialist advice

Patients diagnosed with a malignancy of undefined origin should be assigned to a nurse who can ensure they will get information, advice and support about everything from diagnosis to palliative care.

The NICE guidelines also say outpatients with CUP should be seen by the specialist team within two weeks.

In-patients should be assessed by the end of the next day after referral.

Professor Peter Littlejohns, NICE clinical and public health director, said: "This is a very neglected type of cancer - patients generally have a poor prognosis and little is known about which types of treatment work best for them.

"They also tend to miss out on medical and other benefits that are given to patients with a specific type of cancer."

NICE said there was currently a lack of support and information for these patients, and there was no system in place to ensure their proper care.

Hilary Tovey, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, welcomed NICE's recommendations.

"We know that being diagnosed with a less common cancer can sometimes be very difficult for patients to cope with," she said.

"Those with an unknown primary cancer site have specific needs because of all the uncertainties related to their condition.

"We hope these guidelines will help get patients the information and support they need."

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