Background: The potential impact of diagnostic delays on patients' outcomes is a debated issue in pediatric oncology and discordant results have been published so far. We attempted to tackle this issue by analyzing a prospective series of 351 consecutive children and adolescents with solid malignancies using innovative statistical tools. Methods: To address the nonlinear complexity of the association between symptom interval and overall survival (OS), a regression tree algorithm was constructed with sequential binary splitting rules and used to identify homogeneous patient groups vis-à-vis functional relationship between diagnostic delay and OS. Results: Three different groups were identified: group A, with localized disease and good prognosis (5-year OS 85.4%); group B, with locally or regionally advanced, or metastatic disease and intermediate prognosis (5-year OS 72.9%), including neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, nonrhabdomyosarcoma soft tissue sarcoma, and germ cell tumor and group C, with locally or regionally advanced, or metastatic disease and poor prognosis (5-year OS 45%), including brain tumors, rhabdomyosarcoma, and bone sarcoma. The functional relationship between symptom interval and mortality risk differed between the three subgroups, there being no association in group A (hazard ratio [HR]: 0.96), a positive linear association in group B (HR: 1.48), and a negative linear association in group C (HR: 0.61). Conclusions: Our analysis suggests that at least a subset of patients can benefit from an earlier diagnosis in terms of survival. For others, intrinsic aggressiveness may mask the potential effect of diagnostic delays. Based on these findings, early diagnosis should remain a goal for pediatric cancer patients.
- Diagnostic delay
- Symptom interval
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health