Undue delays in breast cancer diagnosis and between breast cancer treatment steps have been reported to be associated with less favorable outcomes, although not all studies are in agreement. A delay can occur each time a women transitions between treatment providers simply as a result of scheduling problems. However, delays appear to be more common for older breast cancer patients, as well as those who are economically disadvantaged or African-American. One question that arises is how long a delay is acceptable between initial diagnosis and surgery to remove the tumor or tumors. Now a new study has attempted to answer this question for four types of cancer.

Latest research finds delays over 12 weeks could reduce survival

The study referenced above was designed to evaluate the affect of a delay between cancer diagnosis to surgery on survival for breast, colorectal, lung and thyroid cancer patients. The study included a total of 7,529 men and women with local or regional disease who had potentially curative surgery as the first treatment for cancer within one year of diagnosis. Study participants were diagnosed in 2006 and followed with respect to mortality for a median of 4.7 years until April 2011.

Delays beyond 12 weeks did not appear to affect survival for lung and thyroid cancer patients. However, such delays increased the likelihood of death during follow-up 2.65-fold for colorectal cancer cases and 1.91-fold for breast cancer cases compared to receiving surgery within one to four weeks after diagnosis. The authors did not detect any clear pattern of increased risk for delays of between four and 12 weeks. Geographic location and income status was found to be associated with delayed surgery. The authors conclude that delays in surgery beyond 12 weeks were associated with increased risk of death in colorectal and breast cancer cases. This suggests that health services should be organized to avoid unnecessary treatment delays and more effort should be made to reduce socioeconomic and geographic disparities in access to high quality cancer care, according to the authors.