Objective — This study aimed to identify colorectal cancer (CRC) diagnostic pathways and describe patients in those pathway groups.
Methods — This was a cross-sectional study of CRC patients in Ontario, Canada, diagnosed 2009–2012 that used linked administrative data at ICES. We used cluster analysis on 11 pathway variables characterising patient presentation, symptoms, procedures and referrals. We assessed associations between patient- and disease-related characteristics and diagnostic pathway group. We further characterised the pathways by diagnostic interval and number of related physician visits.
Results — Six diagnostic pathways were identified, with three adhering to provincial diagnostic guidelines: screening (N = 4494), colonoscopy (N = 10,066) and imaging plus colonoscopy (N = 3427). Non-adherent pathways were imaging alone (N = 2238), imaging and emergency presentation (N = 2849) and no pre-diagnostic workup (N = 887). Patients in adherent pathways were younger, had fewer comorbidities, lived in less deprived areas and had earlier stage disease. The median diagnostic interval length varied across pathways from 12 to 126 days, correlating with the number of CRC-related visits.
Conclusions — This study demonstrated substantial variations in real-world CRC diagnostic pathways and 25% were diagnosed through non-adherent pathways. Those patients were older, had more comorbid disease and had higher stage cancer. Further research needs to identify and describe the reasons for divergent diagnostic processes.