Prognostic consequences of implementing cancer patient pathways in Denmark: a comparative cohort study of symptomatic cancer patients in primary care
BACKGROUND AND AIM Significant tumour progression was observed during waiting time for treatment of head and neck cancer. To reduce waiting times, a Danish national policy of fast track accelerated clinical pathways was introduced in 2007. This study describes changes in waiting time and the potential influence of fast track by comparing waiting times in 2010 to 2002 and 1992. METHODS Charts of all new patients diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity, pharynx and larynx at the five Danish head and neck oncology centres from January to April 2010 (n=253) were reviewed and compared to similar data from 2002 (n=211) and 1992 (n=168). RESULTS The median time to diagnosis was 13 days (2010) versus 17 days (2002; p<0.001) and 20 days (1992; p<0.001). Median days from diagnosis to treatment start were 25 (2010) versus 47 (2002; p<0.001) and 31 (1992; p<0.001). Total pre-treatment time was median 41 days in 2010 versus 69 days (2002) (p<0.001) and 50 days (1992; p<0.001). Significantly more diagnostic imaging was done in 2010 compared to 2002 and 1992. When compared to current fast track standards the adherence to diagnosis improved slightly from 47% (1992) to 51% (2002) and 64% (2010); waiting time for radiotherapy was within standards for 7%, 1% and 22% of cases, respectively; waiting time for surgery was within standards for 17%, 22% and 48%, respectively. CONCLUSION The study showed a significant reduction in delay of diagnosis and treatment of head and neck cancer in 2010, but still less than half of all patients start treatment within the current standards.