This research investigated psychological characteristics associated with delay in seeking help for symptoms of rectal cancer. Sixty nine subjects reconstructed pivotal events beginning with symptom onset and ending with medical consultation, and completed the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). The mean delay time was around 6 months, with about 1 out of 6 subjects waiting one year or more. Subjects estimated the lengths of two sequential segments of total time to consultation: (1) Symptom Appraisal time (from symptom onset to recognition of possible seriousness), and (2) Action Appraisal time (from recognition of seriousness to medical consultation). Symptom Appraisal time accounted for over two-thirds of total time and was associated with low scores on the TCI Harm Avoidance scale (TCI-HA), indicating dispositional insensitivity to threat, and marginally associated with less education and younger age. Action Appraisal time was not associated with any demographic or psychological variables. Low TCI-HA scores were also associated with lower likelihood of previous cancer screening, and with better judgments of premorbid health. Low STAI Trait scores were associated with better judgments of premorbid health and fewer doctor visits. Results are discussed regarding the importance of understanding dispositional characteristics related to health behavior. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.