The findings of a new study highlight the consequences which may result from a delayed cancer diagnosis, indicating even a one month failure to detect cancer could be the difference between life and death for some patients.
In a study published earlier this month in the medical journal The BMJ, Canadian researchers indicate even a four-week delay in treatment, which could occur if a doctor fails to properly diagnose a patient’s cancer, can increase the risk of death for at least seven types of cancer.
Researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 34 high-validity studies published from January 1, 2000 to April 2020. They involved a total of nearly 1.3 million patients who were diagnosed and treated for cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, rectum, lung, cervix, and head and neck. The researchers looked for overall survival for every four weeks treatment was delayed.
According to the findings, there was a significant association between delayed diagnosis and cancer patients’ risk of death in 13 of 16 indications. Delaying surgery increased the risk of death slightly across all categories.
“Cancer treatment delay is a problem in health systems worldwide. The impact of delay on mortality can now be quantified for prioritisation and modelling,” the researchers determined. “Even a four week delay of cancer treatment is associated with increased mortality across surgical, systemic treatment, and radiotherapy indications for seven cancers.”
The researchers called for policies to focus on minimizing delays before starting treatment, which they say could improve patients’ chances of survival.
Cancer often progresses in stages, and is easier to treat in its earliest stages in most cases. However, as most forms of cancer progress, they can metastasize, meaning the cancer spreads to other organs. As most forms of cancer reach higher stages, they become harder to contain, resulting in more difficulty in treating them, and a poorer prognosis for the patient.
A 2019 colorectal cancer study found that 63% of those who developed the cancer waited three months to a year to see a doctor after symptoms appeared because they did not recognize the signs. However, 67% had to see at least two physicians before they were properly diagnosed and treatment began. Some had to see as many as four doctors.