• patient delay;
  • oral cancer;
  • qualitative methods;
  • early detection


Objectives: The detection of oral cancer at an early stage is the most effective means to improve survival and reduce morbidity. However, approximately 30 percent of patients delay seeking help for more than 3 months following the self-discovery of symptoms of oral cancer. This study aimed to increase our understanding of patient delay to inform the development of interventions to encourage early presentation of oral cancer. Methods: Newly referred patients (n = 57) with potentially malignant oral symptoms were interviewed to determine influences on the timing of their decision to seek help. “Framework analysis” was used to analyze transcripts from semi-structured interviews. Results: Barriers to seeking help related to beliefs about symptoms, the health care professional (HCP), and an individual's circumstances. The main triggers to seeking help included the symptomatology and the presence of another reason for visiting an HCP. Conclusions: The results are discussed with reference to their implications for interventions aimed at reducing patient delay.