Regional women risk lengthy delays in breast cancer diagnosis

Queensland women in regional and remote areas experience significantly longer delays in the diagnosis of breast cancer than women living in major cities, new research shows.

For breast cancers detected both symptomatically and through mammograms, women living in geographically isolated areas, areas of disadvantage, and Indigenous women in Queensland were more likely to experience delays in diagnosis.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO Jeff Dunn AO said there were a range of reasons for the inequity – from patient and system-related delays to diagnostic intervals.

“The most common reason Queensland women delayed seeking medical consultation was a lack of awareness of breast cancer symptoms,” Prof Dunn said.

“Our research also found women in full-time employment were more likely to experience system-related delays – it’s possible work commitments may hinder making, and keeping, medical appointments.

“Geographic location and area-level disadvantage led to delays of more than 30 days from first medical consultation to a diagnosis of breast cancer.

“Compared to women in major cities, those living in outer regional and areas of disadvantage were 40 to 60 per cent more likely to experience delays.

“Improving GP access to regional and rural diagnostic services and timely access to relevant diagnostic procedures would likely help close this gap between rural and urban breast cancer patients over time.

“The research reinforces the urgent need for approaches targeting women most at risk of delays in diagnosis.

“Investment in translational research activity is key to addressing this issue, ensuring that these findings are used to inform local-level strategies to minimise avoidable delays, so that all women, irrespective of where they live, are diagnosed as quickly as possible.”

Cancer Council Queensland recommends women aged 50-74 have a mammogram every two years through BreastScreen Queensland.

“All Queensland women should be breast aware and familiarise themselves with the normal look and feel of their breasts,” Prof Dunn said.

“All women should also see a doctor immediately if they notice any unusual breast changes.

“The study shows more education is needed to help women understand the importance of timely medical consultations, and awareness of all potential breast cancer symptoms.”

There are a number of breast changes that women should look out for. A persistent lump, lumpiness or thickening, changes to the nipple, discharge from the nipple, any change of the shape, feel, size or colour of the breast, dimpling or puckering of the skin and unusual breast pain which is not associated with a monthly menstrual cycle.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Queensland women – around 3300 new cases are diagnosed each year, and about 550 women die from the disease.

The study was funded by Cancer Australia and Cancer Council Queensland.

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available on 13 11 20 or