Lower-income countries are forced to wait for cancer treatment

According to a new study published in PLOS Medicine, cancer patients waiting to see a doctor, receive a diagnosis and begin treatment can vary depending on their location and type of cancer.

Researcher Dafina Petrova, of the Biomedical Research Institute, and her colleagues discovered individuals in lower-income countries are forced to wait four times longer to receive care. 

child sitting on bed

Experts completed a meta-analysis of 410 articles representing 68 countries and more than five million patients, to understand how the timing of cancer treatment varies across different cancer types and in lower income countries. 

Ms Petrova looked at three-time intervals: from the first symptoms to visiting a doctor, from the first consultation to diagnosis and from diagnosis to the start of treatment. She discovered in high-income countries most patients saw a doctor within a month of experiencing symptoms, but in lower-income countries this interval was 1.5 to four times longer for almost all cancer types.

Across all countries, cancers that caused non-specific symptoms, such as myeloma, colorectal, and gynaecological cancer, typically took the longest to diagnose, with prostate and gynaecological cancers having the longest treatment delays, on average.

The new study also highlights the extent of the global disparities in early cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Researchers called for efforts to be made to reduce the amount of time it takes patients in lower-income countries to receive care after experiencing symptoms. They acknowledged that their estimates for the time it takes to diagnose and start treatment mostly came from high-income countries because these countries have robust health information systems in place to record this information. 

Additionally, these findings spotlight types of cancers where research on ways to provide earlier diagnosis and treatment may yield better outcomes for patients.

Dafina Petrova, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Granada said: ‘Our new study identifies the cancers where diagnosis and treatment initiation may take the longest and reveals important global disparities in early cancer diagnosis and treatment.’ 

Cancer is a leading cause of death globally and timely diagnosis and treatment are essential for improving patient outcomes. In 2020 the Office of National Statistics reported over 130,000 people died from Cancer in England alone. 

Photo by National Cancer Institute


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