Identifying women at risk of delayed breast cancer diagnosis

Sherri O. Stuver, Junya Zhu, Brett Simchowitz, Michael J. Hassett, Lawrence N. Shulman, Saul N. Weingart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Delays in breast cancer diagnosis contribute to increased morbidity and mortality. Factors related to the occurrence of delayed diagnosis have not been well studied. Methods: A retrospective cohort study of 5,464 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer from 1999 through 2006 was conducted at a comprehensive cancer center in Boston. A delayed diagnosis was defined as an interval greater than 90 days between the patient's first breast-related problem that prompted seeking of medical care and the breast cancer diagnosis based on biopsy. Results: 938 (17%) patients had a delayed breast cancer diagnosis. Non-white race or Hispanic ethnicity (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 1.46, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.13-1.90), living more than 26 miles from Boston (OR 1.46, 95% CI = 1.25-1.71), and initial presentation with a lump found by the patient herself (OR = 2.89, 95% CI = 2.36-3.55) or another breast symptom (OR = 0.25, 95% CI = 1.79-2.82) compared to an abnormal mammogram were significantly associated with a delay in diagnosis. In contrast, the odds of a delay were lower for women who were older than 18-39 years of age and for women living with two or more household members (OR = 0.72, 95% CI = 0.59-0.87). The likelihood of experiencing a delayed breast cancer diagnosis increased markedly if a woman had multiple risk factors, with a nearly 12-fold increase among women with five or more risk factors (OR = 11.96, 95% CI = 6.32-22.61). Conclusions: Younger age, minority race, and self-identification of breast symptom affect the likelihood of delayed breast cancer diagnosis. Awareness of these issues could help focus efforts to develop algorithms that identify women at risk for a delay and build programs that facilitate their timely access to care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)568-575
Number of pages8
JournalJoint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management

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