This program cut cancer diagnosis time from 32 days to 12 for underserved populations

Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers found a way to reduce cancer diagnosis time from 32 days to 12 for underserved populations, The ASCO Post reported March 22.

The study, which was published in JCO Oncology Practice and has not been peer reviewed, followed a program initiated in 2012. Dana-Farber offered oncology diagnostics and cancer-specific patient navigation services to partnered community health centers offering primary care to predominantly Black communities. This was the first attempt to provide cancer diagnostics through such a program, though this method has been used in other areas of medicine, according to the report.

Five oncologists from Dana-Farber and oncology nurse navigators evaluated lab results, scans, symptoms, follow-up care and other matters related to solid tumors or hematologic malignancies for patients referred by primary care providers. The diagnostic team did not provide direct cancer treatment but directed patients to the appropriate next steps.

Researchers found that 10 percent of patients in the program enrolled in clinical trials — double the historical rate. The enrollment was even higher for the subset of patients diagnosed with cancer, according to the report. The program also cut the diagnostic resolution time to 12 days for those with cancer and 28 days for those without.

"The clinical trial numbers are intriguing, but more research is required to understand this change. We don't want to overgeneralize and say we have a solution for the complex challenge of disparities in cancer care delivery," senior study author Christopher Lathan, MD, chief clinical access and equity officer and associate medical director at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in the report. "But I do think this is a model that could be further evaluated and hopefully utilized and adjusted in many different ways to specifically improve the diagnosis of all cancers."

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