Greater efforts are needed to prevent treatment delays for patients with cancer, according to research presented at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual meeting. These findings reveal that patients with newly diagnosed cancer are having to wait longer to begin treatment, a delay that is associated with a substantially increased risk of death.

The researchers used prospective data from the National Cancer Database and examined the number of days between diagnosis and the first treatment for persons with early-stage solid-tumor cancers diagnosed from 2004 to 2013. The study involved 3,672,561 patients with breast, prostate, colorectal, non-small cell lung, renal, and pancreatic cancers.

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The researchers found that the median time to treatment initiation (TTI) has increased significantly in recent years, from 21 days in 2004 to 29 days in 2013. Delays were more likely if patients changed treatment facilities or if they sought care at academic centers.

Longer delays between diagnosis and initial treatment were associated with worsened overall survival for stages I and II breast, lung, renal, and pancreatic cancers, and stage II colorectal cancer, with increased risk of mortality of 1.2% to 3.2% per week of delay, adjusting for comorbidities and other variables. Prolonged TTI of more than 6 weeks was associated with substantially worsened survival.