The 5-year survival rates for colorectal cancer are generally lower in the UK than other European countries. In an attempt to improve prognosis, central government has stipulated that patients with suspicious symptoms ought to be seen within 2 weeks of referral from a primary care physician. In order to evaluate whether symptom duration affects stage at presentation of colorectal cancer, a retrospective analysis of all patients presenting over a 2-year period to a large district general hospital was performed. There was no significant difference (P = 0.885) in Dukes' staging in patients with symptoms lasting less or more than 6 months. Though seeing patients with symptoms suspicious of colorectal cancer in specialist out-patient clinics within 2 weeks of presentation to the primary care physician would probably reduce the number of patients presenting as an emergency, it is unlikely to improve prognosis. Thus funds diverted towards the 2-week wait are probably best utilised for other procedures such as colonoscopy and for improving care once the diagnosis of cancer has been made. Diagnosis of colorectal cancer at an earlier stage is best achieved by screening of the population.
P. Kiran, R. Glass
Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England