A steep increase in healthcare seeking behaviour in the last months before colorectal cancer diagnosis

Josephina G. Kuiper*, Myrthe P.P. van Herk-Sukel, Valery E.P.P. Lemmens, Ernst J. Kuipers, Ron M.C. Herings

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Timely recognition of colorectal cancer related symptoms is essential to reduce time to diagnosis. This study aims to investigate the primary healthcare use preceding a colorectal cancer diagnosis.


From a cohort of linked cancer and primary care data, patients diagnosed with primary colorectal cancer in the period 2007–2014 were selected and matched to cancer-free controls on gender, birth year, GP practice and follow-up period. Primary healthcare use among colorectal cancer cases before diagnosis was compared with matched cancer-free controls. Mean monthly number of GP consultations and newly prescribed medication was assessed in the year before index date (diagnosis date for cases). Results were stratified by colorectal cancer site: proximal colon cancer, distal colon cancer and rectal cancer.


A total of 6,087 colorectal cancer cases could be matched to four cancer-free controls (N = 24,348). While mean monthly number of GP consultation were stable through the year among cancer-free controls, a statistical significant increase was seen among colorectal cancer cases in the last 4–8 months before diagnosis. Proximal colon cancer cases showed the longest time interval of increased mean monthly number of GP consultations. This increase was largely driven by a consultation for malignant neoplasm colon/rectum. The number patients receiving a newly prescribed medication was stable around 120 per 1,000 persons per month until 8 months before index date for proximal colon cancer cases, 4 months before index date for distal colon cancer cases and 3 months for rectal cancer cases. This increase was mainly driven by the prescription of laxatives drugs.


An increase in the healthcare seeking behaviour of colorectal cancer patients prior to diagnosis was seen. The longest period of increased GP consultations and newly prescribed medication was seen among patients diagnosed with proximal colon cancer. This can be explained by the difficultly to diagnose proximal colon cancer given the more subtle signs compared to distal colon cancer and rectal cancer. Therefore, faster diagnosis for this specific tumour subtype may only be possible when clear clinical signs and symptoms are present.

Original languageEnglish
Article number121
JournalBMC Family Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank all the healthcare providers contributing information to the PHARMO Database Network.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


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