Patients with colorectal cancer continue to present with relatively advanced tumors. Delay in diagnosis is often believed to have been a contributing factor, and the validity of this hypothesis has seldom been questioned. The aim of this study was to establish whether a delay in diagnosis is related to long-term survival and if the most frequent symptoms were related to the stage or time at which the carcinoma was diagnosed. Data from 660 patients surgically treated for uncomplicated colorectal carcinoma in our institution between 1985 and 2000 were analyzed retrospectively. Age, sex, initial symptoms, duration of symptoms, neoplasm location, curative surgery, TNM stage, and survival time were the variables recorded. Patients were classified into two groups according to symptom duration: < 3 months versus >/= 3 months. Comparative statistical analysis was performed for the two groups as well as the initial symptom, TNM stage, and survival time. Also, the initial symptoms most frequently reported were compared with the TNM stage. The two groups were found to be equal with regard to distribution of age, gender, location of the neoplasm, type of surgery performed, and TNM stage. We found that symptom duration was shortened in the presence of abdominal pain ( p = 0.002) [odds ratio (OR) 0.53; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.35-0.80] and was delayed in the presence of an anemic syndrome ( p = 0.006) (OR 2.4; 95% CI 1.27-4.56). Also, the stage of the neoplasm was related to rectal bleeding ( p < 0.001) and abdominal pain ( p = 0.008). The log-rank test indicated that duration of symptoms was not related to long-term survival ( p = 0.90). We concluded that the duration of colorectal cancer symptoms is not related to the stage or prognosis of tumors.