DOI: 10.1200/op.23.00567 ISSN: 2688-1527

Time to Diagnosis and Presenting Symptoms of Patients Diagnosed With Cancer Through Emergency and Nonemergency Routes: A Large Retrospective Study From a High-Volume Center

Xavier Bosch, Tiago Mota Gomes, Elisabet Montori-Palacin, Pedro Moreno, Alfonso López-Soto
  • Oncology (nursing)
  • Health Policy
  • Oncology


The symptoms with which a patient with cancer presents and the route taken to diagnosis (emergency v nonemergency) may affect the speed with which the diagnosis of cancer is made, thereby affecting outcomes. We examined time to diagnosis by symptom for cancers diagnosed through emergency and nonemergency routes (NERs).


We performed a retrospective review of patients diagnosed with 10 solid cancers at Hospital Clínic of Barcelona between March 2013 and June 2023. Cancers were diagnosed through emergency presentation and admission (inpatient emergency route [IER]), emergency presentation and outpatient referral (outpatient emergency route [OER]), and primary care presentation and outpatient referral (NER). We assessed the effect of diagnostic routes on intervals to diagnosis for 19 cancer symptoms.


A total of 5,174 and 1,607 patients were diagnosed with cancer through emergency routes and NERs, respectively. Over 85% of patients presenting with alarm (localizing) symptoms such as hematuria through emergency routes were diagnosed with the expected cancer, whereas those with nonlocalizing symptoms such as abdominal pain had a more heterogeneous cancer-site composition. Median intervals were shorter for alarm than nonlocalizing symptoms and tended to be shorter in IERs than OERs. However, for most symptoms, intervals in both routes were invariably shorter than in the NER. For example, diagnostic intervals for hematuria and abdominal pain were 3 and 5 days shorter in IERs than OERs, but they were 5-8 and 17-22 days shorter than in the NER, respectively.


For patients with alarm symptoms, intervals were shorter than for those with nonlocalizing symptoms and, for most symptoms, intervals were shorter when patients were evaluated by emergency routes rather than NERs.

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