Delay to diagnosis and breast cancer stage in an urban South African breast clinic
Background. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in many low- and middle-income countries, and often presents at an advanced stage that affects prognosis irrespective of the care available. Although patient-related delay is commonly cited, the reasons for delay and the relationship of delay to stage are still poorly documented, especially in Africa.
Objectives. To identify where patient-related socioeconomic delays occur and how these relate to stage at presentation.
Methods. Consecutive women with a new breast cancer diagnosis were prospectively invited to complete a questionnaire on their socioeconomic characteristics and ability to access care. Clinical stage at presentation was documented.
Results. Over 14 months, 252 women completed the questionnaire (response rate 71.6%). Their median age was 55 years (interquartile range 44 - 65), with 26.5% aged <45 years. Stage at presentation was stage 1 in 15.5% of patients, stage 2 in 28.5% and stage 3 in 56.0%. Almost a third of the patients (30.4%) presented with a T4 tumour (6.1% inflammatory). Total delay in presenting to the breast clinic was significantly associated with locally advanced stage at presentation (p=0.021). Average delay differed between early stage (1.5 months) and locally advanced (2.5 months), and most delay occurred between acknowledging a breast symptom and seeking care. The least delay was between attending a health service and presenting at the open-access breast clinic, with 75.0% presenting within 1 month. Factors associated with delay were difficulties with transport, low level of education and fear of missing appointments due to work.
Conclusions. Most women delayed in seeking breast care. Facilitating direct access to specialist breast clinics may reduce delays in presentation and improve time to diagnosis and care.