Approximately 20-30% of women delay for 12 weeks or more from self-discovery of a breast symptom to presentation to a health care provider, and such delay intervals are associated with poorer survival. Understanding the factors that influence patient delay is important for the development of an effective, targeted health intervention programme to shorten patient delay. The aim of the study was to elicit knowledge and beliefs about breast cancer among a sample of the general female population, and examine age and socio-economic variations in responses. Participants were randomly selected through the Postal Address File, and data were collected through the Office of National Statistics. Geographically distributed throughout the UK, 996 women participated in a short structured interview to elicit their knowledge of breast cancer risk, breast cancer symptoms, and their perceptions of the management and outcomes associated with breast cancer. Women had limited knowledge of their relative risk of developing breast cancer, of associated risk factors and of the diversity of potential breast cancer-related symptoms. Older women were particularly poor at identifying symptoms of breast cancer, risk factors associated with breast cancer and their personal risk of developing the disease. Poorer knowledge of symptoms and risks among older women may help to explain the strong association between older age and delay in help-seeking. If these findings are confirmed they suggest that any intervention programme should target older women in particular, given that advancing age is a risk factor for both developing breast cancer and for subsequent delayed presentation.
Copyright 2002 Cancer Research UK