Repository logo

Understanding missed opportunities for more timely diagnosis of cancer in symptomatic patients after presentation.

Change log


Lyratzopoulos, Georgios  ORCID logo
Vedsted, P 
Singh, H 


The diagnosis of cancer is a complex, multi-step process. In this paper, we highlight factors involved in missed opportunities to diagnose cancer more promptly in symptomatic patients and discuss responsible mechanisms and potential strategies to shorten intervals from presentation to diagnosis. Missed opportunities are instances in which post-hoc judgement indicates that alternative decisions or actions could have led to more timely diagnosis. They can occur in any of the three phases of the diagnostic process (initial diagnostic assessment; diagnostic test performance and interpretation; and diagnostic follow-up and coordination) and can involve patient, doctor/care team, and health-care system factors, often in combination. In this perspective article, we consider epidemiological 'signals' suggestive of missed opportunities and draw on evidence from retrospective case reviews of cancer patient cohorts to summarise factors that contribute to missed opportunities. Multi-disciplinary research targeting such factors is important to shorten diagnostic intervals post presentation. Insights from the fields of organisational and cognitive psychology, human factors science and informatics can be extremely valuable in this emerging research agenda. We provide a conceptual foundation for the development of future interventions to minimise the occurrence of missed opportunities in cancer diagnosis, enriching current approaches that chiefly focus on clinical decision support or on widening access to investigations.



Delayed Diagnosis, Humans, Neoplasms, Referral and Consultation

Journal Title

Br J Cancer

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Springer Science and Business Media LLC
TCC (None)
We acknowledge the helpful and incisive comments by Dr Rikke Sand Andersen (Aarhus University, Denmark) in conceptualising this piece and in drafts of the manuscript. The work is independent research supported by different funding schemes. GL was supported by a Post-Doctoral Fellowship by the National Institute for Health Research (PDF-2011-04-047) until the end of 2014 and by a Cancer Research UK Clinician Scientist Fellowship award (A18180) from 2015. HS is supported by the VA Health Services Research and Development Service (CRE 12-033; Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers USA 14-274), the VA National Center for Patient Safety, the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (R01HS022087) and in part by the Houston VA HSR&D Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety (CIN 13–413). PV was supported by CaP, funded by The Danish Cancer Society and the Novo Nordisk Foundation.