Can we assess Cancer Waiting Time targets with cancer survival? A population-based study of individually linked data from the National Cancer Waiting Times monitoring dataset in England, 2009-2013

Chiara Di Girolamo, Sarah Walters, Carolynn Gildea, Sara Benitez Majano, Bernard Rachet, Melanie Morris*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Background Cancer Waiting Time targets have been integrated into successive cancer strategies as indicators of cancer care quality in England. These targets are reported in national statistics for all cancers combined, but there is mixed evidence of their benefits and it is unclear if meeting Cancer Waiting Time targets, as currently defined and published, is associated with improved survival for individual patients, and thus if survival is a good metric for judging the utility of the targets. Methods and findings We used individually-linked data from the National Cancer Waiting Times Monitoring Dataset (CWT), the cancer registry and other routinely collected datasets. The study population consisted of all adult patients diagnosed in England (2009–2013) with colorectal (164,890), lung (171,208) or ovarian (24,545) cancer, of whom 82%, 76%, and 77%, respectively, had a CWT matching record. The main outcome was one-year net survival for all matched patients by target attainment (‘met/not met’). The time to each type of treatment for the 31-day and 62-day targets was estimated using multivariable analyses, adjusting for age, sex, tumour stage and deprivation. The two-week wait (TWW) from GP referral to specialist consultation and 31-day target from decision to treat to start of treatment were met for more than 95% of patients, but the 62-day target from GP referral to start of treatment was missed more often. There was little evidence of an association between meeting the TWW target and one-year net survival, but for the 31-day and 62-day targets, survival was worse for those for whom the targets were met (e.g. colorectal cancer: survival 89.1% (95%CI 88.9–89.4) for patients with 31-day target met, 96.9% (95%CI 96.1–91.7) for patients for whom it was not met). Time-to-treatment analyses showed that treatments recorded as palliative were given earlier in time, than treatments with potentially curative intent. There are possible limitations in the accuracy of the categorisation of treatment variables which do not allow for fully distinguishing, for example, between curative and palliative intent; and it is difficult in these data to assess the appropriateness of treatment by stage. These limitations in the nature of the data do not affect the survival estimates found, but do mean that it is not possible to separate those patients for whom the times between referral, decision to treat and start of treatment could actually have an impact on the clinical outcomes. This means that the use of these survival measures to evaluate the targets would be misleading. Conclusions Based on these individually-linked data, and for the cancers we looked at, we did not find that Cancer Waiting Time targets being met translates into improved one-year survival. Patients may benefit psychologically from limited waits which encourage timely treatment, but one-year survival is not a useful measure for evaluating Trust performance with regards to Cancer Waiting Time targets, which are not currently stratified by stage or treatment type. As such, the current composition of the data means target compliance needs further evaluation before being used for the assessment of clinical outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0201288
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a grant from Cancer Research UK (https://www., award number C7923/ A18348, held by BR as principal investigator. The funding body collaborated in the design of the study but had no role in the data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The researchers are independent of the funding body.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Di Girolamo et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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