New QResearch tool to improve diagnosis and treatment of cancer

31 Oct 2011

Researchers have developed a new risk score to help GPs speed up the diagnosis and treatment of patients suffering from two of the commonest forms of cancer – potentially saving thousands of lives every year.

The QCancer algorithm has been shown to successfully identify people suffering from gastro-oesophageal and lung cancer at an earlier stage by ‘red-flagging’ potentially worrying combinations of symptoms and risk factors.

Research published in the British Journal of General practice today (31 October) showed that the 10 per cent of patients that the algorithm predicted as most at risk of developing one of the two diseases accounted for 77 per cent of all the gastro-oesophageal and lung cancers diagnosed over the following two years.

The algorithm was developed using anonymised patient data from the QResearch database – a not-for-profit partnership between the University of Nottingham and leading healthcare IT provider EMIS.

The research was led by ProfessorJulia Hippisley-Cox, from the University’s Division of Primary Care. She said: “Earlier diagnosis of cancer is a major challenge and we hope this new research will help doctors identify patients for earlier referral and investigation.

“We are very grateful for the continuing support of the EMIS GP practices that contribute their high quality data to QResearch. Without them, our research would not be possible.”

The tool could help GPs to improve their record on early diagnosis in line with current Government policy and the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI) — a public sector/third sector partnership between the Department of Health, National Cancer Action Team, and Cancer Research UK. Evidence suggests that simply raising awareness of symptoms and speeding up diagnosis could save 5,000 lives a year without any new advances in medicine.

Two simple web calculators have been produced for use by doctors – one for lung cancer ( and the other for gastro-oesophageal cancer (

The QCancer tool can be used online or at point of care in the surgery, or run in batch mode to pick up at-risk patients. Open source and closed software which implements QCancer is available for use with NHS clinical computer systems via ClinRisk Ltd.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, with 1.3 million new cases diagnosed every year. It has one of the lowest survival rates because two-thirds of patients are diagnosed too late to be successfully treated. Up to 40 per cent of cases of gastro-oesophageal cancer are missed because clinicians do not consider a range of symptoms.