Patterns of Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis in Pediatric Cancer and Relationship to Survival

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Abstract

Background:

Pediatric cancer is rare and its symptoms are often ambiguous. The aims of this study were to investigate the time needed to make a diagnosis, assess the frequency of misdiagnosis, and to determine whether these factors affected survival.

Methods:

A review of records of 364 pediatric patients diagnosed with cancer at the University of Rochester Golisano Children’s Hospital between 2004 and 2012 was conducted. Data were extracted on patient and health care system–related factors and clinical outcomes.

Results:

The median time from symptom onset to diagnosis was shortest for leukemia (18.5 d) and longest for bone tumors (86.5 d). Tumor type was the only factor associated with time to diagnosis. In 52% of cases an incorrect nononcological diagnosis was initially made. Soft tissue sarcomas and brain tumors were misdiagnosed most often. Neither prolonged time to diagnosis nor initial misdiagnosis was associated with reduced survival. Tumor type and presence of metastatic disease at diagnosis were significantly associated with survival.

Conclusions:

There is significant variation in the time from symptom onset to diagnosis of pediatric cancers, and incorrect initial diagnostic impressions are common. Despite this there is no impact of prolonged time to diagnosis on survival.

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