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Young Breast Cancer Patients With Poorer Financial Status May Experience Delays in Seeking Care

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Key Points

  • The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer at age ≤ 40 detect their own breast abnormalities.
  • Among women with self-detected breast cancers, 17% experienced a delay of at least 90 days before they visited a health-care provider for an evaluation, and 12% reported a delay of at least 90 days between that visit and their diagnosis.
  • Women with poorer financial status were more likely to experience a delay between detecting an abnormality and visiting a health-care provider.

Researchers seeking to determine why breast cancers are more deadly in young women found that although only a minority of young women experience long delays between the time they detect a breast abnormality and the time they receive a diagnosis, delays in seeking care are more common in women with fewer financial resources. The findings were published early online in Cancer.

The research team, led by Kathryn J. Ruddy, MD, MPH, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and Ann H. Partridge, MD, MPH, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, surveyed 585 women recently diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 or younger regarding their symptoms and delays in diagnosis.

Study Outcomes

The median age at diagnosis was 37 years, and the investigators found that 80% of the women detected their own breast abnormalities. Among women with self-detected breast cancers, the median time between initial sign of cancer and seeking medical attention was 14 days, but 17% experienced a delay of at least 90 days before they visited a health-care provider for an evaluation, and 12% reported a delay of at least 90 days between that visit and their diagnosis. Women with poorer financial status were more likely to experience a delay between detecting an abnormality and visiting a health-care provider.

“Because we discovered that women who are less financially comfortable are more likely to delay seeking medical attention for breast abnormalities that later are diagnosed as breast cancer, it appears that economic disparity may be an important consideration in future development of interventions to reduce delays,” said Dr. Ruddy. “The findings may lead to research focusing on whether reducing copays and ‘hidden’ costs of seeking medical care—such as parking charges, child-care expenses, and lost wages—may improve the timeliness of diagnosis in this population.”

The authors also noted a nonsignificant trend toward more advanced disease in women who experienced a delay between seeing a health-care provider and receiving a diagnosis. But because substantial delays only impacted a minority of women who detected their own breast abnormalities, they concluded that factors besides delays—such as tumor biology—are likely more influential on breast cancer outcomes in most cases.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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