Prolonged Diagnostic Intervals as Marker of Missed Diagnostic Opportunities in Bladder and Kidney Cancer Patients with Alarm Features: A Longitudinal Linked Data Study

Cancers (Basel). 2021 Jan 5;13(1):156. doi: 10.3390/cancers13010156.


Background: In England, patients who meet National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline criteria for suspected cancer should receive a specialist assessment within 14 days. We examined how quickly bladder and kidney cancer patients who met fast-track referral criteria were actually diagnosed.

Methods: We used linked primary care and cancer registration data on bladder and kidney cancer patients who met fast-track referral criteria and examined the time from their first presentation with alarm features to diagnosis. Using logistic regression we examined factors most likely to be associated with non-timely diagnosis (defined as intervals exceeding 90 days), adjusting for age, sex and cancer type, positing that such occurrences represent missed opportunity for timely referral, possibly due to sub-optimal guideline adherence.

Results: 28%, 42% and 31% of all urological cancer patients reported no, one or two or more relevant symptoms respectively in the year before diagnosis. Of the 2105 patients with alarm features warranting fast-track assessment, 1373 (65%) presented with unexplained haematuria, 382 (18%) with recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs), 303 (14%) with visible haematuria, and 45 (2%) with an abdominal mass. 27% overall, and 24%, 45%, 18% and 27% of each group respectively, had a non-timely diagnosis. Presentation with recurrent UTI was associated with longest median diagnostic interval (median 83 days, IQR 43-151) and visible haematuria with the shortest (median 50 days, IQR 30-79). After adjustment, presentation with recurrent UTIs, being in the youngest or oldest age group, female sex, and diagnosis of kidney and upper tract urothelial cancer, were associated with greater odds of non-timely diagnosis.

Conclusion: More than a quarter of patients presenting with fast-track referral features did not achieve a timely diagnosis, suggesting inadequate guideline adherence for some patients. The findings highlight a substantial number of opportunities for expediting the diagnosis of patients with bladder or kidney cancers.

Keywords: bladder cancer; diagnostic timeliness; early diagnosis; kidney cancer; missed opportunity.