The Psychological Implications of Diagnostic Delay in Colorectal Cancer Patients

  • Anne MilesEmail author


Cancer patients rate rapid diagnosis as one of the most important aspects of their hospital-based care, but very little research has examined the psychological implications of diagnostic delay. Diagnostic delay can have both short and long-term effects on a patient’s psychological wellbeing, quality of life, and satisfaction with care, as a result of what happens during the pre-diagnostic period, and the consequences any delay may have on the patient’s prognosis and treatment.

A third of patients undergoing investigations for suspected cancer have clinically significant levels of distress, and both distress and quality of life during this time are similar to people with a confirmed diagnosis of cancer. Patients who experience diagnostic delay also have a higher number of consultations and medical tests and are more likely to experience substandard quality care, but the effect of this on psychological outcomes among both patients and family members remains underexplored. Patients undergoing investigations for suspected colorectal cancer have informational and emotional needs, some of which remain unmet. Population subgroups that may be particularly vulnerable to distress during the diagnostic phase include women, younger adults, and people with lower social support, low optimism, and high intolerance of uncertainty.

Further research is needed into the effect of rapid diagnostic pathways on psychological outcomes, but also needs to explore the role of particular experiences during the diagnostic phase, such as number of consultations and diagnostic errors on patient wellbeing, and not just time to diagnosis.


Cancer Oncology Colorectal Delayed diagnosis Psychological 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological SciencesBirkbeck University of LondonLondonUK

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