A Danish cancer pathway has been implemented for patients with serious non-specific symptoms and signs of cancer (NSSC-CPP). The initiative is one of several to improve the long diagnostic interval and the poor survival of Danish cancer patients. However, little is known about the patients investigated under this pathway. We aim to describe the characteristics of patients referred from general practice to the NSSC-CPP and to estimate the cancer probability and distribution in this population.
A cross-sectional study was performed, including all patients referred to the NSSC-CPP at the hospitals in Aarhus or Silkeborg in the Central Denmark Region between March 2012 and March 2013. Data were based on a questionnaire completed by the patient’s general practitioner (GP) combined with nationwide registers. Cancer probability was the percentage of new cancers per investigated patient. Associations between patient characteristics and cancer diagnosis were estimated with prevalence rate ratios (PRRs) from a generalised linear model.
The mean age of all 1278 included patients was 65.9 years, and 47.5 % were men. In total, 16.2 % of all patients had a cancer diagnosis after six months; the most common types were lung cancer (17.9 %), colorectal cancer (12.6 %), hematopoietic tissue cancer (10.1 %) and pancreatic cancer (9.2 %). All patients in combination had more than 80 different symptoms and 51 different clinical findings at referral. Most symptoms were non-specific and vague; weight loss and fatigue were present in more than half of all cases. The three most common clinical findings were ‘affected general condition’ (35.8 %), ‘GP’s gut feeling’ (22.5 %) and ‘findings from the abdomen’ (13.0 %). A strong association was found between GP-estimated cancer risk at referral and probability of cancer.
In total, 16.2 % of the patients referred through the NSSC-CPP had cancer. They constituted a heterogeneous group with many different symptoms and clinical findings. The GP’s gut feeling was a common reason for referral which proved to be a strong predictor of cancer. The GP’s overall estimation of the patient’s risk of cancer at referral was associated with the probability of finding cancer.