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Waiting to see the doctor: understanding appraisal and utilization components of consultation delay for new breast symptoms in Chinese women


Centre for Psycho-oncological Research and Training, Department of Community Medicine & Unit for Behavioural Sciences, School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong, 5/F, WMW Mong Block, Faculty of Medicine Building, 21 Sassoon Road, Pokulam, Hong Kong. Email:



Delayed consultation for potential cancer symptoms influences treatment outcomes and remains problematic. Delay components (Appraisal versus Utilization) and respective associations are poorly understood.


Eligible participants were Cantonese-speaking Chinese women, ≥21 years old, with self-discovered breast symptoms, recruited in surgical clinics before their first consultation, and naïve to their diagnosis. Overall 425/433 (98%) women completed a questionnaire on psychosocial, demographic and medical factors, how and when women discovered their breast symptom(s), and their subsequent decision making; 135/425 women (32%) were later diagnosed with breast cancer.


Twenty-two per cent of women delayed >3 months before consultation. Women with breast cancer (28%) more often had prolonged delay than women with benign disease (19%). Attributing symptom to a non-cancerous condition, low fear on symptom discovery, not disclosing symptoms to others, and no prior breast symptom history predicted prolonged (>60 days) Appraisal Delay. Low fear on symptom discovery, seldom thinking about the symptom, and consultation for other reasons predicted prolonged (>14 days) Utilization Delay. Factors predicting Appraisal and Utilization Delays differentiated cancer from non-cancer groups.


Indecision over symptom meaning comprised the main component of Appraisal and Total Delay, suggesting that educational strategies targeting atypical symptoms should reduce avoidable delays following self-discovered breast symptoms. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.