Help-seeking intentions for breast-cancer symptoms: a comparison of the self-regulation model and the theory of planned behaviour

Br J Health Psychol. 2003 Sep;8(Pt 3):319-33. doi: 10.1348/135910703322370888.


Purpose: Delays in seeking help for symptoms have been found to be associated with poorer outcome in breast-cancer patients. This study explores symptom perceptions and health beliefs as predictors of intentions to seek medical help in a general female population. The utility of the self-regulation model of illness cognition and the theory of planned behaviour were examined in predicting help-seeking intentions for potential symptoms of breast cancer in a general population sample.

Methods: A general population sample of 546 women completed a postal questionnaire comprising items examining components of the self-regulation model and the theory of planned behaviour. Help-seeking intention was determined by asking participants to rate the likelihood of visiting their GP for a range of breast symptoms.

Results: Hierarchical multiple regression analysis revealed that the cognitive component of the self-regulation model accounted for approximately 22% of the variance in help-seeking intention. Identity (beta = 0.45, p <.001) emerged as a significant predictor of intention to seek help. Inclusion of the components of the theory of planned behaviour accounted for an additional 7% of the variance; the significant predictors were attitude to help-seeking (beta = 0.19, p <.001) and perceived behavioural control (beta = 0.12, p <.01).

Conclusions: Intention to seek medical help for a potential breast-cancer symptom may be mediated, partly, by cognitive representations of the identity and consequences of breast cancer and by attitudes towards help-seeking and perceived behavioural control. Although less than one-third of the variance was accounted for, these results have important implications for future research (in terms of identifying which variables should be examined) and for the development of a model of help-seeking behaviour in women with breast-cancer symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Social Control, Informal*
  • Time Factors