Rapid access to cancer diagnosis for better outcomes

Three male and three female health professionals in a room with medical equipment.
The rapid access head and neck lump clinic multidisciplinary team at Fiona Stanley Hospital.
December 20, 2018

A new Rapid Access Neck Lump Clinic at Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH) is speeding up the time from referral to diagnosis and treatment for people with head and neck cancers, potentially saving lives.

Dr Rob Wormald, FSH Consultant Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon, said the clinic, a first for Western Australia, was having a significant impact on the lives of patients.

“It is critical we see these people quickly as head and neck cancers have some of the fastest growth rates of all cancers.  The average time for a head and neck cancer to double in size is 90 days, but this can vary from 14 to 200 days,” Dr Wormald said.

“The longer patients wait to be seen the poorer the outcome, treatment can become more invasive, recovery times longer, comorbidities increase and some patients can become untreatable.

“This clinic allows us to see patients within two weeks of referral for a few hours of assessment, with a same day diagnosis, and then a treatment plan within another two weeks.”

Previously the average time from referral to the first appointment was 33 days, this would have been in addition to time spent getting tests done by the GP, the new clinic has reduced this to 14 days for eligible patients. The average time to treatment decision has decreased from 59 days to 28 days.

The service involves patients attending the one-stop clinic where a multidisciplinary team including ENT, radiology and cytology run tests which are expedited for diagnosis.

The fortnightly clinic has seen almost 70 patients since opening.

“Of this cohort, 29 were diagnosed with malignant cancer, and 16 patients had benign lumps,” Dr Wormald said.

“This clinic has allowed us to better coordinate care for our patients, optimise the management of head and neck cancer services to minimise waiting times and maximise efficient and safe patient care.”

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