Establishing population-based surveillance of diagnostic timeliness using linked cancer registry and administrative data for patients with colorectal and lung cancer

Cancer Epidemiol. 2019 Aug;61:111-118. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2019.05.010. Epub 2019 Jun 15.


Background: Diagnostic timeliness in cancer patients is important for clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction but, to-date, continuous monitoring of diagnostic intervals in nationwide incident cohorts has been impossible in England.

Methods: We developed a new methodology for measuring the secondary care diagnostic interval (SCDI - first relevant secondary care contact to diagnosis) using linked cancer registration and healthcare utilisation data. Using this method, we subsequently examined diagnostic timeliness in colorectal and lung cancer patients (2014-15) by socio-demographic characteristics, diagnostic route and stage at diagnosis.

Results: The approach assigned SCDIs to 94.4% of all incident colorectal cancer cases [median length (90th centile) of 25 (104) days] and 95.3% of lung cancer cases [36 (144) days]. Advanced stage patients had shorter intervals (median, colorectal: stage 1 vs 4 - 34 vs 19 days; lung stage 1&2 vs 3B&4 - 70 vs 27 days). Routinely referred patients had the longest (colorectal: 61, lung: 69 days) and emergency presenters the shortest intervals (colorectal: 3, lung: 14 days). Comorbidities and additional diagnostic tests were also associated with longer intervals.

Conclusion: This new method can enable repeatable nationwide measurement of cancer diagnostic timeliness in England and identifies actionable variation to inform early diagnosis interventions and target future research.

Keywords: Colorectal cancer; Diagnostic intervals; Early detection of cancer; Early diagnosis; England; Lung cancer; Population-based cancer registries; Secondary care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Data Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Registries