The determinants and impact of diagnostic delay in lymphoma in a TB and HIV endemic setting

Background Little is known about the pathway to diagnosis of lymphoma in Sub-Saharan Africa, despite the increased risk of lymphoma in people living with HIV (PLHIV). The challenges of diagnosis in this setting include diagnostic confusion with extrapulmonary tuberculosis (EPTB), which commonly causes lymphadenopathy in PLHIV. Methods We analysed the time to diagnosis and treatment in patients using predetermined time intervals. Univariate and multivariable analyses were performed to determine the relationship between patient and disease-specific variables with delays to diagnosis. We were particularly interested in the impact of HIV, empiric tuberculosis therapy and fine-needle aspirate for cytology (FNAC) in contributing to delay. Results Patients (n = 163), 29% HIV-infected, waited a median of 4 weeks before seeking medical attention. It took a median of 7 weeks for the diagnosis of lymphoma to be made from the time the patient sought medical attention, termed the healthcare practitioner interval. In multivariable logistic regression analysis, diagnostic delay > 6 weeks was associated with late-stage disease (OR 2.3, 95% CI 1.1–5.2) and Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) (OR 3.0, 95% CI 1.1–8.0). HIV status was not associated with diagnostic delay (OR 0.9, 95% CI 0.3–2.2). The median time to diagnosis was a median of 4 weeks longer for patients on tuberculous (TB) therapy (n = 16, p = 0.28) and patients who underwent an FNAC (n = 63, p = 0.04). Where FNAC was performed, it was diagnostic for lymphoma in only 11%. Diagnostic delay was not associated with overall survival. Conclusions Time-to-diagnosis of lymphoma in South Africa was similar to that reported from high-income countries and shows significant periods of delay between the onset of symptoms to diagnosis and treatment. The longest period of delay was in the health practitioner interval. Education regarding the significance of lymphadenopathy for both patients and health care practitioners and appropriate investigative steps preferably by best-practice algorithms specific to TB-endemic areas are needed to shorten the time-to-diagnosis of lymphoma.