Use of health services one year before primary colorectal cancer

Elina Hermiö, Karri Seppä, Heidi Ryynänen, Elli Hirvonen, Liisa Pylkkänen, Jutta Järvelin, Nea Malila, Janne Pitkäniemi

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BACKGROUND: Colorectal cancer (CRC) patient pathways focus typically on periods after confirmed diagnosis and only limited data are available on pathways prior to cancer diagnosis. The aim of the study was to describe the use of health services (HS) one year before diagnosis among CRC patients in Finland. We also studied the role of sex, age, stage, and university hospital district in relation to the use of HS during the pre-diagnostic phase. This information is expected to bring light on the question why CRC is often not found in its early stages.

METHODS: Incident CRC cases (N = 3115) concerning year 2015 were retrieved from the Finnish Cancer Registry and linked with data from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare on primary or specialised care outpatient visits or inpatient episodes over one year prior to CRC diagnosis. We modelled the average number of HS events per patient using Poisson regression model with log-link. Change points for monthly HS event rates and 95% CIs one year before diagnosis were evaluated using Poisson broken line regression models.

RESULTS: Around 10% of patients diagnosed in 2015 had no events prior to cancer leaving 2816 CRCs in the study. Of all pre-diagnostic events (N = 23268), 86% were outpatient events and 14% inpatient episodes. More than half of the inpatient episodes (65%) started as urgent admissions. The use of HS started to increase 3-4 months before diagnosis. The average number of pre-diagnostic HS events per patient varied by sex, age, stage and university hospital district. Overall, men had more events per patient than women and older patients had more events than younger patients.

CONCLUSIONS: The amount of inpatient episodes starting as urgent admissions indicate potential bottlenecks in the access to health services. An increase in service use only 3-4 months prior to diagnosis reflects a need for advice both for health care professionals and the general population in recognising symptoms of CRC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number279
Number of pages9
JournalBmc Health Services Research
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2023
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Male
  • Humans
  • Female
  • Health Services
  • Hospitalization
  • Colorectal Neoplasms/diagnosis
  • Finland/epidemiology

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 2


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