Dr. Kaplan: It’s encouraging that during the past thirty-five years there’s been a reduction in the delay between the time the patient first notices cancer symptoms and the time he goes to the doctor. But there’s another kind of delay that hasn’t been appreciably reduced—the time the doctor takes to diagnose cancer. When you state this baldly it sounds like an indictment of the medical profession. But look at the situation realistically: every year the doctor sees thousands of patients who complain of symptoms that in some respects may resemble cancer symptoms. Actually, only a very few of these patients have cancer. To those of us who are cancer specialists, cancer seems to be a common disease. In the average doctor’s practice, if he jumped to conclusions every time a patient came to him with cancerlike symptoms, he’d be wrong nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a thousand.
Katz: When you speak of a doctor delaying diagnosis do you mean a month? A year?
Kaplan: In the more obvious types of cancer—like skin cancer—there’s usually little delay. But if it's an internal cancer —say in the stomach or the lung—the average delay is perhaps two to four months. I would say that postponement of treatment for that time could be dangerous.
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