Purpose: To study the wait times for cancer patients from the time of diagnosis to consultation with a radiation oncologist (T1), from consultation to radiotherapy (T2) and from diagnosis to radiotherapy (T3) in the context of treatment practices and measurement issues.
Methods: From 1992 to 2000, we studied 6585 Nova Scotian patients over the age of 24 years with a diagnosis of breast, lung, colorectal or prostate cancer who received radiotherapy within 1 year of diagnosis. Multivariate analyses examined associations between wait time and diagnosis year, age, sex, median household income (MHI), distance to the cancer centre and extent of disease. Univariate findings reported are median times and interquartile ranges.
Results: The T3 was 16 weeks for breast and colorectal cancer, 6 weeks for lung cancer and 18 weeks for prostate cancer. The greatest T1 decrease over time was for prostate cancer: 13-8 weeks (hazards ratio [HR] = 1.07, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.05-1.10). The T2 increased for all cancers, and the T3 increased from 5 to 7 weeks for lung cancer, from 17 to 22 weeks for prostate cancer and from 10 to 18 weeks for breast cancer, with no change for colorectal cancer. The T3 decreased by age for breast cancer (HR = 1.12, CI = 1.10-1.14) and prostate cancer (HR = 1.07, CI = 1.02-1.11), showed no consistent association with distance to a cancer centre and varied by extent of disease. Patients with localized lung disease had a longer T3 than those with distant disease, but the opposite results were noted for patients with breast cancer. The T3 was greater for regional than distant disease in lung and breast cancers. Sex and MHI had no effect.
Conclusion: Wait times reflected clinical practice, and there were no adverse patterns related to age, sex, income or distance from a cancer centre.