Up to 10,000 people die of cancer every year because their condition is diagnosed too late, research from the government’s cancer services chief has revealed.

National clinical director for cancer Mike Richards said earlier detection of cancer could save between 5,000 and 10,000 lives in England and branded the current diagnosis situation as “unacceptable”.

He said: “These delays in the patient presenting with symptoms and cancer being diagnosed at a late stage inevitably costs lives. The situation is unacceptable so the first big step has been to understand why the delays occur.”

His findings are to appear in an article in the British Journal of Cancer.

An excerpt published in The Guardian said: “Efforts now need to be directed at promoting early diagnosis for the very large number (over 90 per cent) of cancer patients who are diagnosed as a result of their symptoms, rather than by screening.”

The professor suggested that the “typically British” trait of worrying about bothering the doctor with something could be partly to blame for the poorer survival rates.

Cancer Research UK research found 40 per cent of people would put off going to the doctor due to time-wasting fears.

Professor Richards said: “Research is already under way to investigate the best ways to break down any barriers between GPs and patients and how to reduce delays in primary care.

Royal College of GPs chair Steve Field said Professor Richards’ findings were “really important”.

“[They] reinforce the need for GPs to put a lot of effort into ensuring that patients present (their symptoms) and have access to GPs, and that we pick up the symptoms early on, and also reflect if we can do things even better in this crucial area of healthcare, which we can.”