Time to Treatment Matters After a Cancer Diagnosis


Swift treatment can improve cancer survival rates.

Whether you suspected something or were completely blindsided, learning that you may have cancer disrupts your world and triggers a range of emotions.

While it is perfectly normal, and recommended, to give yourself time to feel and adjust, quick action can have a significant impact on your outcome and quality of life.

It is widely known that delaying treatment for a wide range of illnesses can impact clinical outcomes. Consider, for example, the use of antibiotics to fight infection. If not taken soon enough or at the prescribed dose and timing, the consequences can be serious.

The same holds true for the various modalities used to treat cancer, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery. Getting diagnosed and treated promptly and correctly is critically important.

A 2020 report published in The BMJ1, one of the world’s oldest medical journals, supports these facts. Canadian and United Kingdom researchers who analyzed years of worldwide clinical data found there was a significant impact on a person’s mortality if treatment for some of the most common cancers was delayed. “Every month delayed in cancer treatment can raise risk of death by around 10%,” they noted.

What to Look for in an Oncology Provider

After hearing the words, “You may have cancer,” from your primary doctor or health care provider, you will need to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

You will want a referral to an experienced medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer, with the resources to develop and deliver a treatment plan personalized for your unique needs and genetic profile.

You may be surprised to learn that you do not have to look far for such oncology experts. Oftentimes your primary care provider will even recommend an oncologist with an upstanding reputation right within your own community.

Aside from a good reputation, there are other qualities you should consider when choosing an oncology provider. Do they have experience in your type of cancer? Do they have access to the latest therapies and clinical trials that could lead to the best outcome for yourself? Do they have resources in place to educate and support you during your cancer journey? And how quickly are they available to see you?

What to Expect During your First Visit

At your first visit, your oncologist will review your health history and medical records and conduct tests, such as a blood draw to get baseline lab values. The oncologist can then confirm if you have cancer and its type, grade and stage.

These are among the factors that determine the type of treatment, when it should begin and how long it will last. In many cases it may be important to start treatment as quickly as possible.

Genetic testing through next-generation sequencing may be another form of testing your oncologist will want to conduct. This test analyzes the genetic make-up of your tumor or blood cells and helps to identify mutations in those cells. Your oncologist can use this information to match you with a treatment that targets that specific mutation.

How Soon After a Diagnosis Will Treatment Start?

The time period from diagnosis of cancer to beginning initial treatment is known as “time to treatment.” The national average at large academic medical centers is close to six weeks, a delay that has been shown to be potentially determinantal to patient outcomes and survival.2

At Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, newly-diagnosed cancer patients begin treatment sooner than at other cancer treatment centers. In fact, most appointments are scheduled within 48 to 72 hours after referral.*

Your oncologist will talk in-depth with you and your loved ones about all of your options so that you are able to make informed decisions and choices as quickly as possible.

Waiting is one of the most stressful aspects of cancer. Finding a comprehensive cancer care provider that is able to provide patients with swift and easy access to the highest-quality diagnosis and treatment planning is essential to reducing stress and ensuring patients achieve the best possible outcomes.

* With all required paperwork provided

1 BMJ 2020;371:m4087 OR https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4087#:~:text=BMJ%202020%3B371%3Am4087,Linked%20Editorial

2 NEJM Catalyst | February 14, 2019 OR https://catalyst.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/CAT.19.0010

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