Background: There is no validated way of measuring the prevalence and duration of patient delay, and we do not know how people perceive and define the time intervals they are asked to report in patient delay studies. This lack of a validated measure hampers research in patient delay and is counterproductive to efforts directed at securing early diagnosis of cancer.
Discussion: The main argument of the present paper is that current studies on patient delay do not sufficiently consider existing theories on symptom interpretation. It is illustrated that the interpretation of bodily sensations as symptoms related to a specific cancer diagnosis is embedded within a social and cultural context. We therefore cannot assume that respondents define delay periods in identical ways.
Summary: In order to improve the validity of patient delay studies, it is suggested that research be strengthened on three counts: More research should be devoted to symptom interpretation processes, more research should seek to operationalise patient delay, and, importantly, more research is needed to develop valid instruments for measuring patient delay.