Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Laurence Altshuler, MD,

Delays can be costly for cancer patients

blog costly delays

There is no question that the earlier a cancer is diagnosed, the better the eventual outcome. Yet, delays are quite common. There are several reasons for such delays, most of which can be attributed to both patients and doctors.

On the patient side, you might simply ignore any symptoms or brush them off as being caused by other issues. Certainly not all symptoms are caused by cancer and some are very subtle and don’t manifest until the cancer has already spread (such as pancreatic or ovarian cancer symptoms), but if you have symptoms that are new, unexplained or don’t go away fairly soon, you need to get to your doctor.

This is especially true if you find abnormal lumps or bumps. Many cancers can be caught early with simple observation, such as tongue cancers, breast lesions and abnormal moles. Unfortunately, many people don’t look at their bodies, and that can be a problem.

A recent study revealed that married couples have better outcomes when they have cancer than non-married couples. This is attributed to the spouse urging his or her partner to go to the doctor if worrisome symptoms or signs appear. If you are single, you must be more vigilant.

The other side of the story involves the doctor. Too often, doctors can also brush aside symptoms or simply treat the symptoms without finding the root cause. Then, when you return and the symptoms remain, they may still just give you some other medication or tell you to keep taking the same treatment. I have seen months of delays when this occurs.

A good example is someone who is diagnosed with pneumonia. They are given antibiotics, which resolve the pneumonia, but then it comes back, so different antibiotics are prescribed. Between these times, several weeks may pass. This should be a red flag, meaning that some underlying problem is causing the recurrent pneumonia (sometimes lung cancer) and if you don’t get better or have recurrent problems, you should insist on finding the underlying cause.

Without early detection, survival rates for many cancers are much worse, even in a time period of a few weeks. The bottom line is that you have to take action, you have to be empowered. If something doesn’t make sense, you need to be the one to question what’s going on. It could save you a lot of suffering as well as your life.