Background: A study of system delay, the time between the initial medical consultation and the establishment of a diagnosis, in breast cancer patients revealed that almost 40% of women reported delays of at least 4 weeks. The objective of this study was to explore the reasons for these prolonged intervals between initial medical consultation and establishment of a diagnosis.
Methods: A total of 367 female breast cancer patients from the National Cancer Institute's Black/White Cancer Survival Study were studied. Medical systems involved in the diagnosis and treatment of these women included hospital outpatient and emergency room, private clinic, public clinic, private doctor, and health maintenance organization.
Results: In about 25% of the cases, the delay was attributed by the woman to the patient herself, and the most common reason she gave was that she felt that the problem was not important. In about 45% of the cases, the provider and the health care system were said to be responsible for the delay through difficulties in scheduling or physician inaction, while in another 17% both the patient and the system were responsible.
Conclusions: This study looked at the issue of how the behaviors of women and their providers contribute to the timing of breast cancer diagnosis. It is one of the only studies to examine the woman's role in delay. It is clear from this study that additional work is needed to look at this question. However, the results of this study suggest that efforts must be made to reduce the time needed to get an appointment with a physician or a diagnostic test, as well as to educate physicians and the women themselves regarding the importance of breast symptoms and the value of prompt evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.