GPs in the UK are to given computer software within the next five years to help them identify potential cancer patients.
The initiative, announced by Professor Mike Richards, the Department of Health's National Cancer Director, is designed to provide earlier diagnosis of lung and bowel cancer and could save thousands of lives a year which are now lost because symptoms are spotted too late.
AdvertisementThe computer would assess risk by taking into account a patient's age, weight and any symptoms like as rectal bleeding or constant fatigue.
If risk was considered to be above a certain level, the person could be referred to hospital for urgent exploratory tests within two weeks.
Prof Richards said the additional diagnostic tool could lead to "better decision-making by GPs" but said family doctors would still have the final say about whether to refer a patient.
Prof Richards said it would take "a remarkable human brain" to retain all the information needed about symptoms of different cancers as well as for all the other ailments GPs have to identify and added: "Why not get computers to support it?"
"The benefit of this will be that GPs will know who should be investigated and who shouldn't," he said.
"It will also help patients to know that whether they are being reassured, or referred, or getting a test, that is the right thing to do."
Cancer is the UK's biggest killer after heart disease and strokes and kills more than 150,000 people every year, around half of those diagnosed.
England is the first country to use the tool, as it has a lower rate of early cancer diagnosis than many European countries, Professor Richards added.
GPs spot cancer in 90 per cent of patients with screening picking up the other ten per cent.
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