Primary care cancer toolkit

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Date: Monday, 22 April 2024, 8:39 PM


This toolkit provides a collection of key resources about cancer prevention, diagnosis and care relevant for the primary care setting.


The Primary Care Cancer Toolkit has been developed by the RCGP in collaboration with Cancer Research UK as part of our partnership to raise awareness and knowledge of the role of primary care in cancer control. It is designed for use by primary healthcare professionals in the UK. If you are accessing these resources from outside the UK, bear in mind that guidelines and systems may be different.

Resources are split into professional and patient sections. Professional resources consist of guidelines, information and tools aimed at those working in primary healthcare. Those within the patient section are websites, information leaflets and other resources aimed at a public audience which a healthcare professional can signpost patients to during or post consultation.

This toolkit was produced as part of the RCGP and Cancer Research UK Cancer Clinical Priority Partnership which ended in March 2020.

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Cancer Prevention

The UK is facing a 20% increase in cancer incidence by 2030, largely because of a growing ageing population. But more than 4 in 10 cases of cancer could be prevented largely through changes to lifestyle, so addressing preventable risk factors is crucial.

Brief interventions which can be managed within a GP consult, such as those recommended by NICE for smoking cessation, have been shown to be effective in encouraging lifestyle change.

More information on the causes of cancer


Reducing Risk - Healthy Lifestyle and Wellbeing



  • NHS Health Scotland - Provides information, education and support for health professionals interested in the ‘Keep Well’ programme in Scotland

Guidelines for Changing Behaviour



Risk Factor Specific Guidance


Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of cancer. There are some excellent targeted resources for becoming smoke free.


Cancer Research UK


  • CRUK: Early Diagnosis bitesize videos
  • RCGP: Position Statement on the Use of Non-Combustible Inhaled Tobacco Products (e-cigarettes)
  • A survey by Cancer Research UK in 2017 found that 20% of general practitioners never discuss e-cigarettes with their patients and a further 25% discussed them occasionally. Further to this, many GPs are unsure of what they should be saying in relation to e-cigarettes. This film based on the RCGP position statement on e-cigarettes features the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) prevention lead, Professor Linda Bauld, and Dr Richard Roope, RCGP and CRUK Cancer Clinical Champion. It addresses key concerns which GPs have voiced about e-cigarettes. They also share the evidence behind the RCGP position statement. Please watch, and if you have time, please complete this short feedback survey.


Overweight and obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer.



Cancer Research UK


Every year alcohol causes 4% of cancers in the UK, around 12,800 cases.


Cancer Research UK


A healthy, balanced diet is one that is high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and pulses and low in processed or red meat. Not only does it help weight management, it can also reduce the risk of cancer directly.


Cancer Research UK

Physical Activity

It is thought that keeping active could help prevent around 3,400 cases of cancer every year in the UK.


Cancer Research UK

HPV Infection

Up to 8 out of 10 people will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives. There are hundreds of different types of HPV and most are harmless. But around 12 types of HPV can cause cancer.


Cancer Research UK


Sun Safety

In the UK more than 8 in 10 cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, could be prevented through enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunburn.

Cancer Research UK


Healthy Living Resources for Patients


  • NHS Choices: Live Well Hub – Advice and suggestions aimed at the public about lifestyle changes, many of them related to cancer prevention


  • Change4Life – Information on increasing physical activity and healthy eating

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Screening

Screening involves testing apparently healthy people for signs of disease. It can save lives through detecting cancer at an early stage, or even preventing it. Currently in the UK there are national screening programmes for breast, bowel and cervical cancer.

Effective population-based screening programmes need a high level of sensitivity - the ability to correctly identify a change. They also need specificity - the ability to correctly identify people who do not have a change.

Screening has harms as well as benefits and it’s important that primary healthcare professionals are able to help patients make informed decisions and choose whether screening is right for them.

Those who may require additional support in accessing information about screening participation:

  • Vulnerable groups, including people with learning disabilities
  • People with physical disabilities
  • People with sensory impairments
  • Younger relatives and carers
  • People who do not read/write English

Learn more about cancer screening programmes, Cancer Research UK.

For further information on screening programmes, see the Cancer Research UK Screening Webpages: Understanding Cancer Screening and the UK Government: Screening Programmes Webpages.

Devolved Nations


Cancer Specific Screening Guidance


The NHS Breast Screening programme invites all women between 50 and 70 years for screening every 3 years. In some parts of England, PHE has been trialling inviting women aged 47 to 73 years old.



The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening programme offers home screening kits every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 74, and NHS Scotland offers these from age 50. In England men and women aged 55 are also invited for a one off bowel scope screening test.




The NHS cervical screening programme invites women from ages 25 to 64 for cervical screening. Women aged 25 to 49 are invited every 3 years. After that, women are invited every 5 years until the age of 64.



Balancing Benefits and Risks of Screening

Prostate Cancer

There is not currently a national screening programme for prostate cancer, however men over 50 can request a test. It is important that they make an informed decision on requesting a test, and this infographic can help.


Understanding and Accessing Screening

Early Diagnosis and Referral

Finding and treating cancer when it is at an early stage provides the best chance of effective treatment. For example, more than 9 out of 10 people will survive bowel cancer if diagnosed at stage 1, as opposed to just 4 out of 10 when diagnosed at stage 4.

Patients with signs and symptoms suggestive of cancer should be referred for investigation according to national and local guidelines. Current NICE guidelines for England, Wales and Northern Ireland recommend the threshold of 3% positive predictive value for suspected cancer pathway referrals. It is important to recognise that, at this threshold, most referrals for suspected cancer will not lead to a cancer diagnosis.


Diagnosis and Referral Guidance



Cancer Site Specific Guidance

Decision Support and Safety Netting

Cancer symptoms are complex and can be vague and non-specific. An increasing number of decision support tools have been developed to aid in assessing a person's risk. These are designed to be used as an adjunct to, and not a replacement for, clinical judgement and current guidance. It is important to remember that people at low risk still have a risk. Effective safety netting will help to bring those people back promptly if symptoms do not improve, or if new symptoms develop.

Cancer Research UK: Safety netting


Treatment for cancer is mainly led by secondary care, however, people will still visit their own GP during and after treatment.

Some people undergoing treatment for cancer want to discuss treatment options or gain advice on letters full of medical jargon. Many will have physical or mental health comorbidities which continue to be managed in primary care. For some patients, cancer and its treatment can lead to presentations for new or evolving symptoms, including oncological emergencies. At other times, patients simply need support and reassurance.


Cancer Treatment

Both Cancer Research UK and Macmillan have excellent information on their websites about what to expect from treatment. This patient information is also very informative for healthcare professionals.

Cancer Emergencies

Beyond Cancer and End of Life Care

Patients who have had a cancer diagnosis have an increased lifetime risk of developing another cancer. All the advice in the prevention section is relevant to this group. GPs should be proactive in lifestyle advice in those living with or beyond cancer and be alert to symptoms of recurrence or second primary cancers.

More information about coping with cancer (including coping physically, emotionally, practically and talking about dying).



End of Life Care

Despite current progress, there are inevitably patients who die of cancer. Providing support and good medical care to those dying in the community continues to be the role of GPs although increasingly supported by teams of other healthcare professionals.

Cancer information for Patients Carers and Professionals

If you or a loved one is affected by cancer you want to be able to access jargon-free reliable information relevant to you.

This section of the toolkit aims to signpost you to these resources or to help your GP find them on your behalf. Much of the information is extremely detailed and will also be very useful for healthcare professionals.

If you notice any change to your body that's not normal for you or doesn't go away, always speak to your doctor. If you have seen your doctor but your symptoms don't go away, go back and see your doctor.


Patient Friendly Information



  • NHS: Cancer Information and Useful Links. – A good source of reliable information for patients and carers, including what people can do to reduce their risk of cancer.
  • NHS Inform: A good source of information for patients, public and health professionals in Scotland.

Macmillan Cancer Support

Debunking the Myths

  • Cancer Research UK Blog – Provides up-to-date views on new developments and helps give an evidence based perspective on common myths and misconceptions about cancer
  • CRUK: Cancer controversies – information about common cancer controversies

Support for Carers

Looking after someone with cancer is not always easy but there is information and support available to help your patients with day-to-day care, psychological support and with practical matters such as finances and getting to appointments. Your GP should be able to direct you to local support but below are some good starting points for directing patients to appropriate support and resources.

The Supporting Breathlessness website for informal carers (family and friends of patients with breathlessness) that is evidence based. Mapped to carers' learning needs and preferences, and can be used by carers on their own, explored in peer- or clinician-led support groups, or in one-to-one sessions between clinicians and carers (and patients).


Continued Professional Development Training and Appraisal

Cancer is an evolving area of practice with new developments both in the background science and in treatments and care pathways. It is therefore vital to keep up to date.


Educational Events

Face-to-Face Learning Events


Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK in Association with

RCGP Cancer Education Hub

Selection of RCGP Hosted e-Learning Modules – Accessible to those with RCGP membership:


  • Variety of CPD Modules – Available to those with a BMA membership, includes many modules relevant to cancer

Audit and Quality Improvement

The Quality and Evidence Personal Excellence Pathway (QEPEP) Toolkit. - This toolkit is tailored for QEPEP use at the University of Manchester, however principles of QIP facilitation within it are universal and maybe applicable to other programmes.

Learning Event Analysis

Learning event analysis (LEA) toolkit for early diagnosis of cancer

Improving Diagnosis of Cancer: A Toolkit for General Practice

Significant event audit of all emergency presentation of cancer is a recommendation from the national cancer taskforce in England and a part of the GMS contract in Wales. It is a useful way to learn from cases and improve care. Ideally significant event audits in these cases should be done across primary and secondary care.

National Cancer Diagnosis Audit

The National Cancer Diagnosis Audit (NCDA) helps us to gain new insights into patient pathways to cancer diagnosis and can inform service improvements that will help to diagnose cancers earlier.

How does it work?

The NCDA gathers primary and secondary care data to explore patient pathways to cancer diagnosis. The last audit round took place in 2016/17 using 2014 data.

The audit looks at clinical practice to understand:

  • Interval length from patient presentation at the surgery to diagnosis
  • Use of primary care led investigations prior to referral
  • What the referral pathways for patients with cancer are, and how they compare with those recorded by the cancer registry

What’s next?

  • A publication summarising the findings from the most recent round of the NCDA is expected soon in the British Journal of General Practice.
  • The next round of the NCDA is planned for early 2019.

To find out more:

Clinical Cases

Practical Profiles

  • Fingertips Public Health England Website – Allows GPs in England to obtain practice level data on how they are doing in cancer care. It allows practice date to be compared with CCG and national averages and other practices. It is a useful tool to look for areas of quality improvement

Local Cancer Statistics

Resources for those Commissioning or Planning Cancer Services

Many GPs will also be involved through clinical commissioning groups and other organisations in commissioning and/or planning cancer services.

This area of the toolkit contains resources relating to this. Commissioners and planners should consider the benefits of preventative interventions as well as effective pathways for diagnosis and management.

Policy Directions



  • Beating Cancer: Ambition and Action – The new Scottish cancer strategy sets out a 5-10 year plan to tackle cancer by improving prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment and after care for those affected.


  • Cancer Services in Wales – Makes recommendations for how to improve cancer outcomes in Wales, and includes recommendations for, and relevant to, primary care.

Service Capacity

Cancer Research UK have undertaken several pieces of work in recent years around service capacity in secondary care, as well as cost benefits of earlier diagnosis of cancer. Reports from these can be found on their website.

Where to Find Support for Improvement Activity

There are various sources of help and support for practices or CCGs in working to improve cancer care.

RCGP CIRC Clinical Priority Programme

  • Early Diagnosis of Cancer Significant Event Analysis Toolkit – Aims to support CCGs and GP practices find emerging themes, and use local intelligence to manage issues.
  • This toolkit is just one of the tools to come out of the RCGP clinical priorities programme. For further information visit the CIRC Website

Cancer Research UK Health Professional Facilitator Programme

The Facilitator Programme

This enables facilitators to work in partnership with NHS Commissioners, GP Cancer Leads, Public Health and other local bodies to support in the prevention, diagnosis and management of cancer.

Cancer Research UK Strategic GP Leads

  • Lead GPs working with Strategic Clinical Networks and Cancer Alliances in England. Contact for further details.

Macmillan GPs

  • Macmillan GPs are practising GPs who devote an average of a day per week to work with Macmillan to make a recognisable improvement in cancer care across the UK


Quality Improvement

Data to Inform Improvement Activity

RCGP members' forum