Time to diagnosis and treatment in younger adults with colorectal cancer: A systematic review

PLoS One. 2022 Sep 12;17(9):e0273396. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0273396. eCollection 2022.


Background: The incidence of colorectal cancer is rising in adults <50 years of age. As a primarily unscreened population, they may have clinically important delays to diagnosis and treatment. This study aimed to review the literature on delay intervals in patients <50 years with colorectal cancer (CRC), and explore associations between longer intervals and outcomes.

Methods: MEDLINE, Embase, and LILACS were searched until December 2, 2021. We included studies published after 1990 reporting any delay interval in adults <50 with CRC. Interval measures and associations with stage at presentation or survival were synthesized and described in a narrative fashion. Risk of bias was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale, Institute of Health Economics Case Series Quality Appraisal Checklist, and the Aarhus Checklist for cancer delay studies.

Results: 55 studies representing 188,530 younger CRC patients were included. Most studies used primary data collection (64%), and 47% reported a single center. Sixteen unique intervals were measured. The most common interval was symptom onset to diagnosis (21 studies; N = 2,107). By sample size, diagnosis to treatment start was the most reported interval (12 studies; N = 170,463). Four studies examined symptoms onset to treatment start (total interval). The shortest was a mean of 99.5 days and the longest was a median of 217 days. There was substantial heterogeneity in the measurement of intervals, and quality of reporting. Higher-quality studies were more likely to use cancer registries, and be population-based. In four studies reporting the relationship between intervals and cancer stage or survival, there were no clear associations between longer intervals and adverse outcomes.

Discussion: Adults <50 with CRC may have intervals between symptom onset to treatment start greater than 6 months. Studies reporting intervals among younger patients are limited by inconsistent results and heterogeneous reporting. There is insufficient evidence to determine if longer intervals are associated with advanced stage or worse survival.

Other: This study's protocol was registered with the Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (PROSPERO; registration number CRD42020179707).

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Registries

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