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BACKGROUND: Although less common cancers account for over half of all cancer diagnoses in England, their relative scarcity and complex presentation, often with non-specific symptoms, means that patients often experience multiple primary care consultations, longer times to diagnosis and poorer clinical outcomes. An urgent referral pathway for non-specific symptoms, the Multidisciplinary Diagnostic Centre (MDC), may address this problem. AIM: To examine the less common cancers identified during the MDC pilots and consider if such an approach improves the diagnosis of these cancers. DESIGN AND SETTING: A service evaluation of five MDC pilot projects in England to 31st March 2019. METHOD: Data items were collected by pilot sites in near-real time, based mainly on the English cancer outcomes and services dataset, with additional project specific items. Simple descriptive and comparative statistics were used, including chi-squared tests for proportions and t-tests for means where appropriate. RESULTS: From 5,134 referrals, 378 cancers were diagnosed, of which 218 (58%) were less common. Over 30 different less common tumour types were diagnosed within this cohort. 23% of MDC patients with less common cancers had ≥3 more GP consultations before referral and, at programme level, a median time of 57 days was recorded from GP urgent referral to treatment for these tumour types. CONCLUSION: A non-specific symptomatic referral route diagnoses a broad range of less common cancers, and can support primary care case management for patients with symptoms of possible cancer that do not qualify for a site-specific urgent referral.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Gen Pract

Publication Date



MDC, Multi-disciplinary Diagnostic Centre, less common cancers, non-specific symptoms, primary health care, urgent cancer referral