New research published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery finds that many patients with suspected lung cancer miss diagnostic testing, leading to delays in treatment for the condition.
Lung cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women in the US. This year, it is estimated that 221,200 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in the country, and around 158,040 people will die from the disease.
The prognosis for patients with lung cancer is poor, with only around 17% surviving for 5 years following diagnosis. Among patients who undergo surgery for the disease, less than half survive as long as 5 years.
According to the study authors – including co-leader Dr. Raymond Osarogiagbon of the Baptist Cancer Center and the University of Memphis, TN – survival for lung cancer patients has barely improved in the past 30 years.
For their study, the team set out to identify whether factors associated with care delivery may be a barrier to improving outcomes following a lung cancer diagnosis.
Dr. Osarogiagbon and colleagues analyzed the hospital records of 614 patients who received surgery for suspected lung cancer at Baptist Memorial Hospital between January 2009 and June 2013.
The researchers looked at how long it took for these patients to receive surgery, as well as what was done to identify the appropriate treatment for each patient.
It is recommended that prior to undergoing surgery for suspected lung cancer, doctors order a combination of three staging tests: computed tomography (CT) imaging, position emission tomography (PET) and a CT scan, and an invasive test such as a biopsy.
However, the results of the study revealed that only 1 in 10 patients had a combination of these diagnostic tests before surgery. In detail, 88% of patients did not have an invasive test, 22% had no imaging test and 27% had no diagnostic procedure prior to surgery.
After the initial identification of suspected lung cancer via X-ray, the researchers found it took an average of 1.5-6 months for the majority of patients to receive surgery.
Dr. Osarogiagbon believes the team’s findings are of concern:
“It takes too long for patients who have suspected lung cancer to get final treatment, and too many patients skip vital steps needed to decide the best possible treatment. This delay in treatment can cause the cancer to advance and reduce the odds of survival for the patient.”
He adds that the results highlight the importance of health care providers engaging with the patient early on to determine the best tests that will identify the best course of treatment. What is more, the researchers say lung cancer patients themselves play a major role in improving their outcomes.
“Patients should feel comfortable taking an active role in their treatment process and ask a lot of questions – find out what treatment is right for them, why that option is the best, and what steps they can take to be better prepared for treatment,” adds study co-leader Nicholas Faris, also of the Baptist Cancer Center and the University of Memphis.
Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study detailing the discovery of a biomarker for lung cancer that could pave the way for a blood test for the condition.