Help seeking behavior of women with self-discovered breast cancer symptoms: a meta-ethnographic synthesis of patient delay

PLoS One. 2014 Dec 3;9(12):e110262. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110262. eCollection 2014.


Background and objective: Patient delay makes a critical contribution to late diagnosis and poor survival in cases of breast cancer. Identifying the factors that influence patient delay could provide information for adopting strategies that shorten this delay. The aim of this meta-ethnography was to synthesize existing qualitative evidence in order to gain a new understanding of help seeking behavior in women with self-discovered breast cancer symptoms and to determine the factors that influence patient delay.

Methods: The design was a meta-ethnography approach. A systematic search of the articles was performed in different databases including Elsevier, PubMed, ProQuest and SCOPUS. Qualitative studies with a focus on help seeking behaviors in women with self-discovered breast cancer symptoms and patient delay, published in the English language between 1990 and 2013 were included. The quality appraisal of the articles was carried out using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme qualitative research checklist and 13 articles met the inclusion criteria. The synthesis was conducted according to Noblit and Hare's meta-ethnographic approach (1988), through reciprocal translational analysis and lines-of-argument.

Findings: The synthesis led to identification of eight repeated key concepts including: symptom detection, initial symptom interpretation, symptom monitoring, social interaction, emotional reaction, priority of medical help, appraisal of health services and personal-environmental factors. Symptom interpretation is identified as the important step of the help seeking process and which changed across the process through active monitoring of their symptoms, social interactions and emotional reactions. The perceived seriousness of the situation, priority to receive medical attention, perceived inaccessibility and unacceptability of the health care system influenced women's decision-making about utilizing health services.

Conclusion: Help seeking processes are influenced by multiple factors. Educational programs aimed at correcting misunderstandings, erroneous social beliefs and improving self-awareness could provide key strategies to improve health policy which would reduce patient delay.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Breast Self-Examination*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Factors

Grants and funding

The authors have no support or funding to report.