Bowel Troubles? Time to Visit a Doctor

Colorectal cancer diagnosis and treatment times depend on how proactive patients are

(RxWiki News) When it comes to colorectal cancer, the shortest possible time between the start of symptoms, diagnosis and treatment is best. Ignoring symptoms only delays necessary treatments.

Recently, a team of doctors in Spain interviewed a group of colorectal cancer patients about when their symptoms started, when they were diagnosed and when they began treatment.

The doctors discovered that longer periods of time passed between the onset of symptoms and starting treatment for patients who ignored symptoms and weren’t proactive about getting treatment.

"Go to the doctor for any colorectal cancer symptoms."

Magdalena Esteva, MD, from the Unit of Research in the Majorca Department of Primary Health Care at the Balearic Institute of Health in Spain, worked with fellow scientists from all over Spain to investigate timelines for symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer.

Researchers interviewed 795 colorectal cancer patients that had been diagnosed between 2006 and 2009. To establish a timeline for each patient, researchers looked at the number of days between the onset of symptoms, diagnosis of colorectal cancer and the start of treatment.

The most common symptoms of colorectal cancer that prompted patients to go to the doctor were abdominal pain, vomiting, bleeding and blocked bowels.

The patients reported an average of 128 days between the start of symptoms and cancer diagnosis and an additional 27 days after diagnosis before the start of treatment.

The number of days from the start of symptoms to the cancer diagnosis ranged between 53 and 258 days. For the start of treatment, the range was between 79 and 283 days.

These results include both colon and rectum cancers.

The researchers found no links between the length of patient’s timelines and age, level of education, social class or marital status. But men were more likely to be diagnosed sooner than women.

“Women push men to see a doctor when they have colorectal cancer symptoms while the women themselves wait for symptoms to clear up because of fear of having cancer. In fact, waiting for symptom clear-up was associated in our study with not being diagnosed or treated promptly,” the authors said.

The researchers found that a shorter amount of time passed between symptoms and treatment when patients were more proactive about contacting gastrointestinal and oncology specialists.

Only one out of every three patients were physically examined in the affected area by their general practitioner or family doctor.

The authors suggested this lack of physical examination at the start of the diagnostic process might have led to longer lapses in time between the onset of symptoms and official diagnosis. However, the authors noted that when the general practitioner was suspicious that the symptoms could be colorectal cancer, the diagnostic process and referral to a specialist was streamlined.

The authors recommended that the healthcare community develop a protocol for primary and secondary care doctors to shorten diagnostic and treatment timelines.

In the US, outside of skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women. The majority of colorectal cancers, or roughly 90 percent, occur in people over the age of 50. The American Cancer society recommends that all men and women over the age of 50 get screened for colorectal cancer. 

This study was published in February in BMC Cancer.

The Spanish Ministry of Health, Carlos III Institute and the Health Promotion and Preventive Activities-Primary Health Care Network helped support funding for this project. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
February 26, 2013