Timeliness of Care and Lung Cancer Tumor-Stage Progression: How Long Can We Wait?


Timely care of lung cancer is presumed critical, yet clear evidence of stage progression with delays in care is lacking. We investigated the reasons for delays in treatment and the impact these delays have on tumor-stage progression.

We queried our retrospective database of 265 veterans who underwent cancer resection from 2005 to 2015. We extracted time intervals between nodule identification, diagnosis, and surgical resection; changes in nodule radiographic size over time; final pathologic staging; and reasons for delays in care. Pearson's correlation and Fisher's exact test were used to compare cancer growth and stage by time to treatment.

Median time from referral to surgical evaluation was 11 days (interquartile range, 8 to 17). Median time from identification to therapeutic resection was 98 days (interquartile range, 66 to 139), and from diagnosis to resection, 53 days (interquartile range, 35 to 77). Sixty-eight patients (26%) were diagnosed at resection; the remainder had preoperative tissue diagnoses. No significant correlation existed between tumor growth and time between nodule identification and resection, or between tumor growth and time between diagnosis and resection. Among 197 patients with preoperative diagnoses, 42% (83) had intervals longer than 60 days between diagnosis and resection. Most common reasons for delay were cardiac clearance, staging, and smoking cessation. Larger nodules had fewer days between identification and resection (p = 0.03).

Evaluation, staging, and smoking cessation drive resection delays. The lack of association between tumor growth and time to treatment suggests other clinical or biological factors, not time alone, underlie growth risk. Until these factors are identified, delays to diagnosis and treatment should be minimized.

  • Baker D
  • Callaway-Lane C
  • Deppen SA
  • Dittus RS
  • Grogan EL
  • Lambright ES
  • Maiga AW
  • Massion PP
  • Nesbitt JC
  • Pinkerman R
PubMed ID
Appears In
Ann Thorac Surg, 2017, 104 (6)