Background: Little information is available concerning how patient delay may be affected by mass disasters. The main objectives of the present study are to identify whether there was a post-disaster increase in the risk of experiencing patient delay among breast cancer patients in an area affected by the 2011 triple disaster in Fukushima, Japan, and to elucidate factors associated with post-disaster patient delay. Sociodemographic factors (age, employment status, cohabitant status and evacuation status), health characteristics, and health access- and disaster-related factors were specifically considered.
Methods: Records of symptomatic breast cancer patients diagnosed from 2005 to 2016 were retrospectively reviewed to calculate risk ratios (RRs) for patient delay in every year post-disaster compared with the pre-disaster baseline. Total and excessive patient delays were respectively defined as three months or more and twelve months or more from symptom recognition to first medical consultation. Logistic regression analysis was conducted for pre- and post-disaster patient delay in order to reveal any factors potentially associated with patient delay, and changes after the disaster.
Results: Two hundred nineteen breast cancer patients (122 pre-disaster and 97 post-disaster) were included. After adjustments for age, significant post-disaster increases in RRs of experiencing both total (RR: 1.66, 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.02-2.70, p < 0.05) and excessive patient delay (RR: 4.49, 95% CI: 1.73-11.65, p < 0.01) were observed. The RRs for total patient delay peaked in the fourth year post-disaster, and significant increases in the risk of excessive patient delay were observed in the second, fourth, and fifth years post-disaster, with more than five times the risk observed pre-disaster. A family history of any cancer was the only factor significantly associated with total patient delay post-disaster (odds ratio: 0.38, 95% CI: 0.15-0.95, p < 0.05), while there were no variables associated with delay pre-disaster.
Conclusions: The triple disaster in Fukushima appears to have led to an increased risk of patient delay among breast cancer patients, and this trend has continued for five years following the disaster.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Disaster; Fukushima; Health service; Minamisoma; Nuclear power plant; Patient delay; Psychosocial stress; Social support.