Delayed treatment of symptomatic breast cancer: the experience from Kaduna, Nigeria

S Afr J Surg. 2008 Nov;46(4):106-10.


Background: A cross-sectional study carried out at a teaching hospital in Kaduna, Nigeria, to investigate the extent and reasons for the delay between onset of symptoms and admission for treatment of symptomatic breast cancer.

Methods: The patients had histologically proven breast cancer and had been admitted for treatment. Data were obtained from interviews and patients' clinical and referral records.

Results: One hundred and eleven consecutive breast cancer patients were interviewed from July 2003 to June 2005. Only 12 (10.8%) could be admitted for treatment within a month of onset of symptoms. Delays were significantly associated with younger patients, elementary or no Western education, and domicile outside the Kaduna metropolitan area. Patients who were referred from, or received initial treatment at, peripheral hospitals had longer delays than those who came for first consultation at the teaching hospital. The proportion of early breast cancer cases (stages I and II) decreased from 45.9% at diagnosis to 25.2% at treatment, as concerns about mastectomy and hospital treatment led a significant number of the patients to temporarily abandon hospital treatment for alternatives, only to return with advanced cancers. The predominant reasons among the 99 patients who had delays of more than a month before admission were: ignorance of the seriousness of a painless breast lump (47.5%), non-acceptance of hospital treatment (46.5%), and preference for traditional treatment (38.4%). A significant number of patients referred from peripheral hospitals had inappropriate surgeries and biopsy management which contributed to the advanced stage on admission.

Conclusion: This study shows that delayed treatment of symptomatic breast cancer at this centre in Nigeria is as much related to the quality of medical care as it is to local beliefs, ignorance of the disease, and lack of acceptance of orthodox treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Surveys
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Nigeria
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors