Study: Lung Cancer Among Diseases Diagnosed After Numerous Doctor Visits

Finger pointing to chest X-ray

Patients with lung, colon, ovarian and pancreatic cancers required more doctor visits to get a referral to an oncologist compared to patients with other cancers, a new UK study finds.

The report, published in the Lancet Oncology, concludes that breast, melanoma and testicular cancer patients tended to require fewer doctor visits before being referred by physicians.

The study highlights one reason why mesothelioma cancer can take so long to diagnose and why many people who are diagnosed with it and with lung cancer are diagnosed in a late stage.

Lung cancer is the second-most prevalent cancer in the United States and accounts for the most cancer-related deaths. Caused by asbestos exposure, smoking and radon exposure, this disease is expected to produce approximately 226,160 new cases this year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Other asbestos-related cancers like mesothelioma were not named in the research study. Factors like age and race were listed as contributors to the variation in cancer diagnoses.

Details of the Study

Researchers investigated 41,299 patients as part of the 2010 National Cancer Patient Experience Survey to determine disparities and commonalities of consultation frequencies among cancer patients and primary care physicians. Twenty-four different cancers were studied.

The results demonstrated that endometrial, testicular and breast cancer patients are likely to be referred faster by their physician compared to lung cancer patients and others. Women, younger patients and minorities were more likely to require three or more visit before they were referred to a hospital or specialist.

During the investigation, subjects were divided into two groups: patients who received a referral from a primary care physician to an oncologist after one or two visits, and patients who had three or more physician consultations before receiving a referral.

Approximately 33 percent of lung cancer patients had three or more physician visits before receiving a referral, compared to seven percent of breast cancer patients and 10 percent of melanoma patients.

“Our findings could help to prioritize and stratify early-diagnosis initiatives and research, focusing on patients with cancers and sociodemographic characteristics with the largest potential for improvement,” said Dr. Georgios Lyratzopoulos, co-author of the study and researcher from the University of Cambridge.

Additional authors of the study were Richard D. Neal, PhD, Josephine Barbiere, MPH, Professor Gregory Rubin, and Gary Abel, PhD.

According to one primary care physician, the study’s results may not directly relate to the United State’s healthcare system and diagnostic trends.

“This is a descriptive study, so it doesn’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship, but it does raise some interesting questions,” said Martin Mahoney, MD, of Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York.

“Of course there are some major differences in that the healthcare system over in England is different from how ours is structured,” he continued.

The study’s authors noted that the majority of cancer diagnoses occur when patients visit a primary care physician after witnessing symptoms relating to their cancers. They believe that by understanding the pre-referral process, researchers will be able to improve the diagnostic process.


Mark Hall joined the Mesothelioma Center as a writer in 2011. Prior to joining the content team, Mark graduated from the University of Florida and then spent several years writing about business, entrepreneurship and technology for various online publications.

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