Cancer is often a difficult subject to talk about with most people. Discovering that you have cancerous cells growing in your body can be quite scary to hear and something anybody would want to get rid of as fast as they can, as we believe it will give us the best chance of survival.
However, contrary to popular belief, this may not always be the case. A new study has found that, in the case of colon cancer, a moderate delay in treatment from diagnosis did not adversely affect survival rates. In fact, some patients may benefit from the extra time, being able to perform additional tests and preparation.
In the United States, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and the third leading cause in women. In 2017 alone, colon cancer is estimated to have claimed over 50,000 lives.
Colon cancer often results in polyp formation in the large intestine. There are small clumps of cells that form on the lining of the colon that have the potential to turn into cancer. Anyone can develop these polyps in the colon, but being over 50 years old, a smoker, or have a family history of colon cancer make you at higher risk. If you don’t find and remove malignant polyps in a timely fashion, they can spread, leading to cancer development.
The study in question looked at over 900 colon cancer patients undergoing elective surgery at various stages of the disease between 2006 and 2015. The median surgical treatment wait time for this patient group was 38 days.
The researchers found that the patients who waited longer than 30 days to have their cancer removed had similar disease-free and overall survival compared to those patients who had their tumors removed within 30 days. Current guidelines set out by Cancer Care Ontario recommends cancer be removed within 28 days.
More surprisingly was that there was no association with treatment delay and poorer outcomes for those patients who waited up to 90 days to receive treatment.
“Assuming that surgical consultation occurs expeditiously after diagnosis, the results of this study do not support the existing recommendations, because patients treated several weeks after diagnosis have similar survival outcomes to those treated sooner,” said Dr. Kerollos Wanis, a third-year general surgery resident with the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and lead author of the study.
The researchers go on to explain that colon cancer is somewhat easier to study, compared to other forms of cancer, as current treatment involves surgical removal without proceeding to chemotherapy or radiation. Other studies looking into treatment delays of other cancers have found mixed results.
Many colon cancer patients are forced to wait, which is one of many factors that prompt cancer patients to voice their dissatisfaction with overall care, compared to those who receive it immediately. Delays may induce increased anxiety and lead to reporting less satisfaction with their care. However, this study suggests that sometimes treatment delays can be beneficial and have little to no downsides.