Faster Diagnosis Standard and Best Practice Pathways

We are implementing a new diagnostic standard for cancer that emphasises the importance of receiving results within 28 days of an urgent suspected cancer referral from primary care. 

This will support the drive to ensure that patients who are diagnosed with cancer can be offered earlier treatment, which will improve outcomes. For those individuals who are not diagnosed with cancer, this communication of an ‘all clear’ within a set time-frame reduces the anxiety felt at a very stressful time.

Cancer services will be required to submit data on how many patients have been given a confirmed cancer diagnosis or informed they do not have cancer by day 28.

This data, at a Cancer Alliance level, can be used to audit how long it takes for patients to have their diagnosis communicated to them, and also to understand where to make improvements to shorten pathways. The focus is on reducing variation for patients and providing a consistent timed pathway.

Best practice pathways or optimal pathways will support patients to have an improved experience, alongside a more timely diagnosis. Further benefits to the patient include: 

  • More confidence, with information about the diagnostic process provided at point of referral
  • Reduced anxiety, with less time between referral and hearing the outcome of diagnostic tests
  • Improved patient experience from fewer visits to hospital, particularly with ‘one stop services’

Rapid diagnostic and assessment pathways illustrate how it is possible for timely and effective care to be provided for patients presenting with cancer symptoms.

Our best practice pathway guides can be accessed here. These are available for prostate cancer, oesophago and gastric cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer. 

Delivery of the pathways will support us in providing the highest quality of care for our patients, and reduce variation in patient access to diagnostic and treatment options. Guides to help implement these timed pathways are provided below. Handbooks set out how diagnosis within 14 days and diagnosis within 28 days can be achieved for the cancer care pathways. Useful resources are identified within these to support with implementation and the key role of Cancer Alliances is identified in delivering large scale transformation across whole systems.


The documents below relate to Cambridge University Hospitals 28 day pathways for different tumour types.