Time intervals from first symptom to diagnosis for head and neck cancers: An analysis of linked patient reports and medical records from the UK

Victoria L Allgar, Steven E Oliver, Hong Chen, Osaretin Oviasu, Miriam J Johnson, Una Macleod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: England has significantly higher mortality risks due to Head and Neck Cancer (HNC) compared with other European countries. Early diagnosis is important as it is likely to increase early-stage diagnosis and improve survival and better quality of life. This study sought to improve understanding of the intervals from first symptom recognition to diagnosis for HNC and investigate associations between patient-reported symptoms and socio-demographic factors. Methods: People within 3 months of diagnosis, completed a researcher-administered questionnaire and data were extracted from primary and secondary care clinical records. Results: Eighty (mean age 62.9 [SD 11.7] years; 66% men) were interviewed. The appraisal interval was longer than a month for 39% of participants and the help-seeking interval was longer than a week for 44%. The median diagnostic interval was 92 (IQR; 34-172) days. Appraisal intervals of > 1 month were associated with male gender, ulceration and persistent throat pain. The only symptom that associated with a help-seeking interval of > 1 week was ulceration. Participants who reported red/white patches in the mouth and ulceration were associated with a reduced likelihood of a diagnostic interval of > 3 months. A higher proportion of participants with a diagnostic interval of > 3 months were diagnosed with advanced disease (78%) than those with an interval < 3 months (68%). Conclusion: These data improve understanding of the intervals from first symptom recognition to HNC diagnosis and provide preliminary evidence to identify targets to reduce overall time to diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-45
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Epidemiology
Early online date19 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 Elsevier Ltd. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Early detection of cancer
  • Head and neck neoplasms
  • Hospital records
  • Logistic models
  • Odds ratio
  • Oral ulcer
  • Primary health care
  • Secondary care
  • Surveys and questionnaires

Cite this