Objective: The purpose of this investigation was to study the correlation between diagnostic delay and the stage of the lung cancer at the time of operation. A second objective was to study differences in symptoms between the patients grouped according to stage. Methods: A total of 172 patients consecutively admitted for surgery between 1 January 1994 and 1 June 1995 at the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery of Rigshospitalet National Hospital of Denmark were included in the retrospective study. Two groups of patients were compared, one group with good prognosis (patients in Stages I and II) and one group with poor prognosis (patients in Stages III and IV). The time-spans studied were: (1) interval from the patient's perception of the first symptom to operation; and (2) the time from first contact with the healthcare-system to operation. The median delay between the patient-groups was compared using the Mann-Whitney U-test. To compare the symptoms which brought the patients in contact with the healthcare-system, the χ2-test was used. Results: In the time interval between appearance of the first symptom and operation, a significantly shorter median delay was found for patients with Stages I and II compared to Stages III and IV (P = 0.037). Concerning the interval from first contact with the healthcare system to operation a significantly shorter median delay was found for the group of patients in Stage I and II compared to the patients-group in Stage III and IV (P = 0.017). It was found that the cancer was an accidental finding, significantly more often in patients in Stages I or II compared to patients in Stages III or IV (P = 0.0002). Conclusions: A few months delay before final treatment of a non-small-cell lung cancer seems to have an impact on the perioperative stage of the cancer, and thereby on the patients prognosis. A screening of asymptomatic risk-group patients will result in recognition of early lung cancer.
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