Cancer Symptoms Allow For Diagnosis at Earlier Stages

Diagnosis of cancer in early stages of disease allows for a wider range of effective treatment options and a greater chance for cure. Fortunately, a new study shows that more cancer diagnoses are occurring at early stages, likely due to an increased awareness of cancer symptoms and greater availability of screening programs. The study, published recently in Lancet Oncology, examined data from 7997 patients with a solid tumor diagnosed in England in 2014. The researchers looked at 20 common presenting symptoms for various cancers to determine average stage at diagnosis for each symptom.

The study found that the majority of cancers diagnosed within the one-year period were early stage, but that stage at diagnosis varied based on presenting symptoms. Among patients presenting with an abnormal mole, only 1% were diagnosed with stage IV disease, while 80% of patients presenting with a neck lump had stage IV disease. The majority of symptoms evaluated were associated with an earlier stage at diagnosis, including breast lump, postmenopausal bleeding, rectal bleeding, lower urinary tract symptoms, hematuria, change in bowel habit, hoarseness, fatigue, abdominal pain, and weight loss. However, there was a strong association between neck lump, chest pain, and back pain and stage IV disease.

The authors concluded that most cancer symptoms are associated with early-stage disease, supporting early diagnosis interventions targeting common cancer symptoms. In an accompanying commentary, Katriina Whitacker, PhD (University of Surrey, Guildford, United Kingdom), says these results are promising and point to the success of public education and cancer screening programs. However, several additional questions remain, including which symptoms are of greatest importance, which populations should be targeted with education campaigns, and the role of socioeconomic disparities.

Read more about this article on Medscape Medical News.

Lancet Oncol. 2019 Nov 5. [Epub ahead of print.]
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