Background: This prospective cohort study aimed to identify symptom and patient factors that influence time to lung cancer diagnosis and stage at diagnosis.
Methods: Data relating to symptoms were collected from patients upon referral with symptoms suspicious of lung cancer in two English regions; we also examined primary care and hospital records for diagnostic routes and diagnoses. Descriptive and regression analyses were used to investigate associations between symptoms and patient factors with diagnostic intervals and stage.
Results: Among 963 participants, 15.9% were diagnosed with primary lung cancer, 5.9% with other thoracic malignancies and 78.2% with non-malignant conditions. Only half the cohort had an isolated first symptom (475, 49.3%); synchronous first symptoms were common. Haemoptysis, reported by 21.6% of cases, was the only initial symptom associated with cancer. Diagnostic intervals were shorter for cancer than non-cancer diagnoses (91 vs 124 days, P=0.037) and for late-stage than early-stage cancer (106 vs 168 days, P=0.02). Chest/shoulder pain was the only first symptom with a shorter diagnostic interval for cancer compared with non-cancer diagnoses (P=0.003).
Conclusions: Haemoptysis is the strongest symptom predictor of lung cancer but occurs in only a fifth of patients. Programmes for expediting earlier diagnosis need to focus on multiple symptoms and their evolution.