Time Taken for Symptom Recognition, First Consultation, Diagnosis and First Definitive Treatment and Its Associated Factors among Women with Breast Cancer

Document Type : Research Articles


1 Unit of Biostatistics and Research Methodology, School of Medical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Kubang Kerian, Kelantan, Malaysia.

2 Centre for Graduate Studies, Cyberjaya University College of Medical Sciences, Persiaran Bestari, Cyber 11, Cyberjaya, Selangor, Malaysia.

3 Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin, Medical Campus, Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu, Malaysia.


Background: Breast cancer patients in Malaysia often present late, delaying diagnosis and treatment. Decisions on health-seeking behaviour are influenced by a complex interplay of several factors. Early detection and subsequent successful treatment are the main goal in order to reduce breast cancer mortality. The aims of this study were to identify the time taken by women with breast cancer for consultation, diagnosis and first definitive treatment and the factors associated with the initiation of definitive treatment. Methods: In this cohort study, we interviewed 328 women with histologically confirmed breast cancer at five medical centres in Malaysia. Times were measured from recognition of symptoms to first consultation to diagnosis and to the first definitive treatment. The event was initiation of definitive treatment. Data was analysed using multivariable Cox proportional hazards regression. Results: The mean age was 47.9 (standard deviation 9.4) years and 79.9% were ethnic Malays. The median follow-up time was 6.9 months. The median times for first doctor consultation, diagnosis and initiation of treatment were 2 months, 5.5 months and 2.4 weeks, respectively. The percentage of consultation delay more than a month was 66.8%, diagnosis delay more than three months was 73.2% and treatment delay more than one month was 11.6%. Factors associated with not initiating the definitive treatment were pregnancy (adjusted hazard ratio (AHR) 1.75; 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.07, 2.88), taking complementary alternative medicine (AHR 1.45; 95% CI: 1.15, 1.83), initial refusal of mastectomy (AHR 3.49; 95% CI: 2.38, 5.13) and undergoing lumpectomy prior to definitive treatment (AHR 1.62; 95% CI: 1.16, 2.28). Conclusions: Delays in diagnosis and consultation were more serious than treatment delays. Most respondents would accept treatment immediately after diagnosis. Respondents themselves were responsible for a large proportion of the delays. This study was successful in understanding the process of breast cancer patients’ experience, from symptoms recognition to consultation, diagnosis and treatment.


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