Tracking cancer occurrence in the 5 years after referral for suspected head and neck cancer

Head and Neck Cancer

Oral Oncol. 2020 Aug 25;109:104955. doi: 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2020.104955. Online ahead of print.


OBJECTIVES: Very little is known about those who receive a negative (benign) result after referral for suspected cancer, including their risk for future cancer. This service evaluation aimed to track the occurrence of cancer (of any type) in the 5 years after an appointment for suspected head and neck cancer (HNC) and compare to those referred to hospital for routine ear nose and throat reasons.

MATERIALS & METHODS: Patient identifiers of referrals to one hospital Trust with either a) suspected HNC cancer on a two week wait (TWW) pathway, or b) routine ear, nose & throat problems, were linked with the National Cancer Registry data to determine the occurrence, site and stage of subsequent cancer.

RESULTS: 10,314 patients were referred between 2009 and 2011. Cancer occurrence in the 5 years after their appointment for those who had initially received a negative diagnosis, was 4.0% for those referred via TWW and 2.1% for those routinely referred. Lung cancer was the most common subsequent cancer site in the TWW group. Those in higher age groups, those with previous cancer, and those referred via the TWW pathway were significantly more likely be diagnosed with subsequent cancer.

CONCLUSION: Given the increased risk of subsequent cancer, it could be beneficial to improve the service provision (e.g. advice on screening attendance, ways to reduce risk, advice on timely help-seeking for symptoms of cancer) at the point of a negative diagnosis on the TWW pathway, especially in older patients and those with a previous diagnosis of cancer.