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Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2010 Jul;92(5):417-21. doi: 10.1308/003588410X12664192075972. Epub 2010 May 19.

Does the two-week rule pathway improve the diagnosis of soft tissue sarcoma? A retrospective review of referral patterns and outcomes over five years in a regional sarcoma centre.

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  • 1Sarcoma and Melanoma Unit, Department of Academic Surgery, Royal Marsden Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK.



The NHS Cancer Plan was introduced in 2000 and included guidelines for the rapid assessment and referral of cases of suspected malignancy. We wished to assess the efficiency and appropriateness of patients referred under the Department of Health's general practitioner referral guidelines implemented for sarcomas in December 2000.


A retrospective case-note review was performed of all patients referred to our regional soft tissue sarcoma unit between 1 January 2004 and 31 December 2008. Patients referred under the two-week guidelines and all patients referred routinely were analysed. The main outcome measures were the total number of patients referred on the basis of the two-week guidelines and the proportion they constitute of all referrals. The referring criteria were noted and compared to the observed criteria recorded. The final histological diagnosis of patients referred on the basis of the two-week guidelines are documented.


A total of 2746 referrals for suspected sarcoma were made from January 2004 to December 2008. Of these, 154 referrals were made under the two-week rule of which 102 were referred purely on the clinical criteria for suspected soft tissue sarcoma. The remaining patients were referred after non-urgent special investigations indicated the possibility of sarcoma. Twelve patients referred under the two-week rule were proved to have sarcoma, nine after specific investigations including imaging or histological diagnosis. Of the 102 patients referred on clinical suspicion of a sarcoma, two patients had proven soft tissue sarcomas and one patient a cutaneous sarcoma. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of 2-week referrals rose 25-fold but accounted for an increase of less than 1% of the sarcomas treated in this unit.


The numbers of all referrals for suspected sarcoma are increasing; however, the rate of increase of 2-week referrals is increasing faster than routine referrals and will exceed it in 2012 if current trends continue. There has not been a commensurate rise in the detection of sarcoma or, more specifically, diagnosis of the deep sarcomas associated with worse prognosis. Current clinical guidelines have essentially had no impact on the early diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue sarcoma, and may negatively impact on the treatment of patients with proven sarcoma by delaying treatment within a regional centre because of redirection of a large number of patients with benign abnormalities to such centres.

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