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How dangerous is a delayed cancer diagnosis?

Cancer is one disease that is best treated when found early. In time, cancer grows and spreads, making it more difficult to treat and cure.

A delayed diagnosis of cancer can be a death sentence in some cases. The BMJ reported that delays in beginning cancer treatment can increase the risk of death by up to 13% for each month of delay.


The research study showed that not only would a one-month delay in diagnosis have a significant impact on the survival rate of a cancer patient but also that for every additional month, the chances of dying increased. The researchers specifically found this to be true for certain types of cancer, including lung, cervix, breast, head and neck, rectum, colon and bladder.


The researchers discovered that an impact was not really seen until four weeks or a month passed with a missed diagnosis. The type of treatment required did play into the mortality rate. Those who needed to have surgery experienced a lower risk of death due to a delay in treatment. But for those who needed radiotherapy, it was incredibly detrimental to have any delay.

They also noted that when the delay was two months, it greatly increased the risk of death to about 17%, and a four-month delay increased that to 26% for breast cancer patients.

Prior to the study, the medical community erroneously thought a delay of a few months was not going to cause a big impact on patients. Now, they know that any delay is a huge risk for the person who has cancer, and the old thought that the early they treat, the better chance for survival counts in weeks, not months.