Background: Colorectal cancer (CRC) survival depends mostly on stage at the time of diagnosis. However, symptom duration at diagnosis or treatment have also been considered as predictors of stage and survival. This study was designed to: 1) establish the distinct time-symptom duration intervals; 2) identify factors associated with symptom duration until diagnosis and treatment.
Methods: This is a cross-sectional study of all incident cases of symptomatic CRC during 2006-2009 (795 incident cases) in 5 Spanish regions. Data were obtained from patients' interviews and reviews of primary care and hospital clinical records.
Measurements: CRC symptoms, symptom perception, trust in the general practitioner (GP), primary care and hospital examinations/visits before diagnosis, type of referral and tumor characteristics at diagnosis. Symptom Diagnosis Interval (SDI) was calculated as time from first CRC symptoms to date of diagnosis. Symptom Treatment Interval (STI) was defined as time from first CRC symptoms until start of treatment. Nonparametric tests were used to compare SDI and STI according to different variables.
Results: Symptom to diagnosis interval for CRC was 128 days and symptom treatment interval was 155. No statistically significant differences were observed between colon and rectum cancers. Women experienced longer intervals than men. Symptom presentation such as vomiting or abdominal pain and the presence of obstruction led to shorter diagnostic or treatment intervals. Time elapsed was also shorter in those patients that perceived their first symptom/s as serious, disclosed it to their acquaintances, contacted emergencies services or had trust in their GPs. Primary care and hospital doctor examinations and investigations appeared to be related to time elapsed to diagnosis or treatment.
Conclusions: Results show that gender, symptom perception and help-seeking behaviour are the main patient factors related to interval duration. Health service performance also has a very important role in symptom to diagnosis and treatment interval. If time to diagnosis is to be reduced, interventions and guidelines must be developed to ensure appropriate examination and diagnosis during both primary and hospital care.