The relationship of symptoms and psychological factors to delay in seeking medical care for breast symptoms

Prev Med. 2003 Mar;36(3):374-8. doi: 10.1016/s0091-7435(02)00053-1.


Background: The psychological processes involved in the delay between noticing breast symptoms and seeking medical care are not well understood.

Methods: We evaluated 85 women referred to a specialist breast clinic prior to their clinic appointment. We assessed the relationship between delay and the type of breast symptom, immediate emotional response to the symptom, perceived risk of breast cancer, fear of breast cancer treatment, and disclosure of the breast symptom to others.

Results: Delay was unrelated to demographic factors but was related to the type of breast symptom; women who had a breast lump waited a significantly shorter time period before visiting the doctor than those without a breast lump. Initial symptom distress on the discovery of the breast symptom was also significantly related to delay. Knowledge of a friend or family member with breast cancer, perceived risk of breast cancer and fear of breast cancer treatment, and disclosure of the symptom to a partner or other person were all unrelated to delay.

Conclusions: The results show the importance of the type of symptom and initial emotional distress in delay and highlight the importance of widening public perceptions of breast symptoms other than breast lumps in order to reduce delay times.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Breast Self-Examination
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Probability
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Concept
  • Time Factors