Introduction: Advanced presentation of breast cancer and the problem of late diagnosis is well documented. Patient delay beyond three months has been shown to reduce survival. This paper aims to explore the experience of Malaysian women presenting with advanced breast cancer with regards to their interpretation of breastsymptoms.
Method: Purposive sampling of 19 breast cancer patients presenting with delayed treatment and/or advanced cancer diagnosed within two years at the University Malaya Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur were carried out. In-depth interviews were conducted using a self-devised interview guide. The interview guide covered the journey of the patient from discovering of symptoms to their present state. The audiotaped interviews were transcribed verbatim. NVivo 8 qualitative software was utilised for data management. Grounded theory with thematic analysis was utilised.
Results: Nine women delayed seeking diagnosis although recognizing the symptom, five did not recognize symptom, three delayed treatment and two did not delay health attention. Themes that emerged with regards to triggering help seeking behavior were: a) poor symptom knowledge and recognition; b) importance of knowledge of the disease and its’ outcomes; c) role of coping mechanisms and affect; and lastly d) role of significant others in appraising a breast symptom.
Conclusion: Symptom recognition remains an important public health issue in Malaysia. Educating women, their significant others and primary health andprimary care providers in detecting early staged breast cancer are needed. Supporting and sanctioning women with breast symptoms are important. The psycho-social-cultural model of symptom appraisal may serve as an important addition to the fight against cancer in countries that do not have the resources for population based screening mammogram programmes.