Experience of health changes and reasons for delay in seeking care: a UK study of the months prior to the diagnosis of lung cancer

Soc Sci Med. 2006 Mar;62(6):1381-91. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.08.012. Epub 2005 Sep 15.


The problem of 'delay' in diagnosing cancer as a result of late presentation by individuals who have symptoms, or through doctor or hospital system failures, are currently the subject of close attention as part of broader initiatives to reduce deaths from cancer. However, in lung cancer there has been a generally held view that 'late' diagnosis is inevitable because of the biomedical difficulties in detecting the disease at an early stage. Data about events recalled prior to diagnosis from an interview study with 22 individuals recently diagnosed with operable (early stage) and inoperable (late stage) lung cancer are reported. Findings reveal that individuals, regardless of their disease stage, or their social background failed to recognise symptoms that they experienced over many months prior to their eventual diagnosis as serious and warranting medical attention. Symptoms, even when severe, were instead attributed to everyday causes and were not interpreted as indicative of ill-health. There was a reluctance to seek help for symptoms among some because they were unsure whether what they were experiencing was normal or not, and in one case because as a smoker, the individual felt 'unworthy' of medical care. This study suggests that previous assumptions that focus on individual or psychological factors in the processes of delay in cancer diagnosis need revisiting and the broader social influences that may affect the timing of diagnosis among people with lung cancer should be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Lung Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Time Factors