Diagnostic delay for head and neck cancer in South India: A Mixed-methods Study

Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2020 Jun 1;21(6):1673-1678. doi: 10.31557/APJCP.2020.21.6.1673.


Background: Early diagnosis is an important aspect of quality of cancer care.Analysis of the diagnostic delays and the reasons for delay helps to plan strategies to improve cancer care.

Objectives: To determine the primary, secondary, and total diagnostic delay of patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer and to explore the reasons for the delay from the patient perspective.

Methods: Explanatory mixed method design was used. Two hundred persons with a confirmed diagnosis of head and neck cancer attending the ENT (ear, nose, throat) cancer clinic in a teaching hospital before the initiation of treatment were included in the study. The median delay and the association of the delay with the various factors were analyzed. Sixteen one-to-one interviews of patients were done to identify the reasons for the delays from the patient perspective.

Results: Median primary, secondary, and total diagnostic delays were 30 days, 30 days, and 73 days, respectively. Statistically, primary delay was found significantly longer among ever users of smokeless tobacco and significantly longer secondary delay was found among those with age less than 60 years. The reasons for the delay were grouped in the categories (i) Symptom appraisal delay due to low perceived seriousness and (ii) health-seeking behavior delay.

Conclusions: The diagnostic delay was considerable. Measures to enhance symptom appraisal by improving health literacy, opportunistic screening, and strengthening the referral system would decrease diagnostic delay.

Keywords: health-seeking behavior; primary delay; secondary delay; symptom appraisal.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Delayed Diagnosis / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Prognosis
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Time Factors