Background: Despite current recommendations for women to be screened for breast cancer with mammography every 1 to 2 years, less than half of all newly diagnosed breast cancers are initially detected through screening mammography. Prompt medical attention to a new breast symptom can result in earlier stage at diagnosis, yet many patients delay seeking medical care after becoming aware of a breast symptom. Methods: In a population-based study of breast cancer, we examined factors potentially associated with patient delay in seeking health care for a breast symptom among 436 symptomatic urban breast cancer patients (146 white, 197 black, and 95 Hispanic). Race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, health care access and utilization, and misconceptions about the meaning of breast lumps were the key independent variables. Results: Sixteen percent of patients reported delaying more than 3 months before seeking medical advice about breast symptoms. Misconceptions about breast lumps and lacking a regular provider, health insurance, and recent preventive care were all associated with prolonged patient delay (P < 0.005 for all). Misconceptions were much more common among ethnic minorities and women of lower socioeconomic status. Conclusion: Reducing patient delay and disparities in delay will require educating women about the importance of getting breast lumps evaluated in a timely manner and providing greater access to regular health care.
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