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Among people born after 1960, 50% will be affected by cancer at some point in their lives.1 The UK, however, has relatively poor survival rates for cancer in comparison to other countries with well-developed health care systems.2,3 This is thought to be because a high proportion of the cancers diagnosed in the UK are diagnosed at a late stage. It is well recognised that early diagnosis significantly improves survival.

In order to address this situation and improve cancer survival in the UK the Department of Health and Public Health England have been running education and awareness campaigns to encourage people, including primary care health professionals, to recognise the early signs and symptoms of cancer and take appropriate action.

General practice has an important role to play, both in the early diagnosis of cancer and in supporting patients living with and beyond the diagnosis. Patients may also ask you for advice or explanations after they have seen an oncologist, either because it is too much to ‘take in’ at the time, because they are overawed by the hospital setting, because they have forgotten to ask, or because they did not think of the question at the time.

This resource, consisting of five questions at intermediate level tests your knowledge of the presenting signs and symptoms of cancer, and how and why cancer is staged and graded. Read the accompanying article, Cancer in the Community: Diagnosis and Staging index.php?p1=articles&p2=1397 then complete the module to obtain a certificate for one hour of continuing professional development to include in your revalidation portfolio.

Aims and objectives

On completion of this resource, you should have an understanding of:

  • The signs and symptoms of the most common cancers
  • The key investigations used to diagnose cancer
  • How cancer is most often staged

Reading list

Practice Nurse featured articles

Cancer in the Community: Diagnosis and Staging Catherine Wilson, Head of The Royal Marsden School.

Malignant melanoma: what happens after diagnosis Dr Ed Warren

Cancer in the Community: Cancer screening Catherine Wilson, Head of The Royal Marsden School.

Malignant melanoma: what happens after diagnosis Dr Ed Warren


1. Cancer Research UK 2015.

2. Independent Cancer Taskforce. Achieving world class outcomes: A strategy for England 2015-2020. Department of Health

3. Neal RD, Tharmanathan P, France B, et al. Is increased time to diagnosis and treatment in symptomatic cancer associated with poorer outcomes: a systematic review. British Journal of Cancer 2015;112:S92-S107