'Containment' as an analytical framework for understanding patient delay: a qualitative study of cancer patients' symptom interpretation processes

Soc Sci Med. 2010 Jul;71(2):378-385. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.03.044. Epub 2010 Apr 27.


Recent decades have seen much variation in survival and mortality among European cancer patients, with rather small increases in survival, especially among patients in UK and Denmark. This poor outcome has been ascribed tentatively to patient delay since an estimated 20-25% of all cancer patients report having experienced cancer-related symptoms for more than three months before seeking care. In this article we analyse semi-structured interviews with 30 adult Danish cancer patients and their families. Special focus is given to symptom interpretation processes, and how these processes potentially delay care-seeking decisions. The paper adopts a contextual approach inspired mainly by the sociologist Alonzo's (1979, 1984) concept of containment. Alonzo's theory is supplemented with recent anthropological and sociological literature on how people establish the relation between bodily sensations and symptoms and decide how to respond adequately to these. We present an analysis illustrating that bodily sensations and symptoms are potentially contained in a dynamic interplay of factors related to specific social situations, life biographies and life expectations and their accordance with culturally acceptable values and explanations. Finally, we discuss the implications of the analysis for future studies on patient delay.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Denmark
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mental Processes*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Qualitative Research
  • Time Factors