The effectiveness of the '2-week wait' referral service for colorectal cancer

Int J Clin Pract. 2010 Nov;64(12):1671-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2010.02505.x.


Introduction: The UK government target expects all suspected cancer patients to be seen within 2 weeks of referral made by general practitioners. This has significant impact on the workload for colorectal surgeons. The aim of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of this colorectal service.

Method: A retrospective study of all patients referred to a 2-week wait colorectal clinic over a 12-month period was assessed, documenting diagnosis and staging. Comparison of patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer (CRC) presenting via other routes in the same period was made.

Results: Over the 12-month period, all 1100 patients were seen in the 2-week wait clinic; 938 (85%) patients fulfilled the referral criteria, but only 81 (7.3%) were diagnosed with cancer. Conversely, 136 CRC patients presented to the surgeons via urgent referrals (n = 86), emergency (n = 13), routine colorectal clinic (n = 19) and bowel screening (n = 18). The 2-week cohort had more advanced staging than those referred by standard letter and pilot screening. Cancers in the symptomatic population are predominantly Dukes' B and Dukes' C whereas in pilot screening group predominantly Dukes' A.

Conclusion: The effectiveness of 2-week wait referral was poor, confirming its lack of validity. Further work is required to offer primary care stricter inclusion and exclusion referral criteria.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging / methods
  • Prognosis
  • Program Evaluation
  • Referral and Consultation / standards*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Waiting Lists*