'Unpacking' pathways to lymphoma and myeloma diagnosis: Do experiences align with the Model of Pathways to Treatment? Findings from a UK qualitative study with patients and relatives

Debra Howell, Ruth Hart, Alexandra Smith, Una Macleod, Russell Patmore, Eve Roman

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OBJECTIVES: To explore alignment of experiences before lymphoma and myeloma diagnosis with the appraisal, help seeking and diagnostic intervals in the Model of Pathways to Treatment (MPT).

DESIGN: A qualitative study using in-depth semistructured interviews with patients and relatives. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, anonymised and analysed using qualitative description.

SETTING: A UK population-based haematological malignancy patient cohort.

PARTICIPANTS: Fifty-five patients (35 lymphoma, 20 myeloma: diagnosed 2014-2016) and 28 relatives participated, within around a year of the patient's diagnosis. Patients were selected from those in the cohort who had returned a questionnaire about their symptoms and help seeking, and consented to contact for further research. Sampling was purposive, to achieve maximum variation in age, sex and time to diagnosis.

RESULTS: Participants described time from symptom onset to diagnosis as ranging from several weeks to years. Pathways largely aligned with MPT components and help seeking could lead to the rapid investigations and identification of abnormalities. However, symptoms could be vague and/or inadvertently interpreted as other conditions, which if perpetuated, could cause diagnostic delay. The latter was associated with chaotic pathways, with activities rarely occurring only once or in a linear sequence. Rather, intermittent or ongoing processes were described, moving forward and backwards through intervals. This is 'unpacked' within five themes: (1) appraisal and reappraisal; (2) patient-initiated self-management/treatment; (3) initial help seeking; (4) re-presentation; and (5) patient-initiated actions, decisions and emotions during re-presentation. Within these themes, various healthcare professionals were consulted, often many times, as symptoms persisted/progressed. Input from family/friends was described as substantial, as was the extent to which information seeking occurred.

CONCLUSION: Lymphoma and myeloma pathways align with the MPT, but do not fully capture the repetition and complexity described by participants. Time to diagnosis was often prolonged, despite the best efforts of patients, relatives and healthcare professionals. The impact of National Health Service England's Multi-diagnostic Disciplinary Centres on time to haematological cancer diagnosis remains to be seen.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere034244
Number of pages10
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2020

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