Delay in seeking a cancer diagnosis: delay stages and psychophysiological comparison processes

Br J Soc Psychol. 1995 Mar:34 ( Pt 1):33-52. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.1995.tb01047.x.


Two analyses of patient delay in seeking a medical diagnosis are considered. In the first, a model of delay is presented. Specifically, delay is comprised of four stages (appraisal, illness, behavioural and scheduling delay intervals), each governed by a conceptually distinct set of decisional and appraisal processes beginning with the initial day that an unexplained symptom is detected to the day the individual appears before a physician. The second analysis is a social psychological one of the attributions individuals draw when relating their symptoms to their expectations and knowledge about physiological bodily processes. The eight principles of Psychophysiological Comparison Theory (PCT) provide the basis for clarifying the psychological processes of symptom interpretation and appraisal. Two studies were conducted with women seeking diagnostic evaluations for prevalent cancers: breast or gynaecological tumours. Regarding the delay model, results indicated that the delay intervals were independent (i.e. uncorrelated). Also, appraisal delay constituted the majority (at least 60 per cent) of the total delay. In the test of PCT, support was found across measures of symptoms, the context in which the symptoms arose, and the inferences people made about the symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arousal*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / diagnosis
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Psychophysiology
  • Sick Role*
  • Time Factors