1Dental Surgeon, Oral Cancer Department, National Cancer Control Programme, Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka
2Deputy Director, National Cancer Control Programme, Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka.
Background: Diagnosis of cancer at an early stage improves prognosis following treatment. Unfortunately a large proportion of oral and pharyngeal cancer patients are diagnosed at late stages which require radical treatment with considerable morbidity and mortality. Many researchers have examined different types of delay that could occur between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis. The objective of this research was to identify patient-linked delays between the time of first noticing symptoms and definitive diagnosis, and its association with the stage at diagnosis among oral and pharyngeal carcinoma patients attending the National Cancer Institute, Maharagama, Sri Lanka. Methods: A hospital-based descriptive cross-sectional study was carried out on 351 patients with histologically confirmed carcinoma of oral cavity and pharynx. Data were collected using an interviewer- administered questionnaire and a data extraction sheet. If a patient had taken more than three months to visit a Health Care Practitioner, it was considered as ‘Patient Delay-1’. If a patient had taken more than two weeks following referral to reach for specialized cancer care, it was considered as ‘Patient Delay 2’. Results: Proportions of ‘Patient Delay-1’ and ‘Patient Delay-2’ were 19% (n=252) and 16% (n=322) respectively. Mean time duration between noticing symptoms to definitive diagnosis was 14.1 weeks (SD=10.3). The proportion of advanced-stage cancers at diagnosis was 59.8%. Conclusion: Stage at diagnosis was significantly associated with ‘Patient Delay -1’ (p = 0.001) but not with ‘Patient Delay-2’. ‘Patient Delay-1’ was significantly associated with level of education (p = 0.001) and the cost of travelling (p = 0.048).