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The journal, Current Oncology, recently published two articles on opposite ends of the cancer timeline-diagnosis and survival. The first article, "Health care strategies to promote earlier presentation of symptomatic breast cancer: perspectives of women and family physicians,” focuses on the problem that 20%–30% of women will wait at least 3 months before seeking help for breast cancer symptoms. During these extra months the tumor may grow significantly and critically decrease a woman’s chance of long-term survival.  So what are the factors that prevent women from seeing their health care provider?

In the article, many of the women who delayed seeing a health care provider had less common symptoms of breast cancer, such as nipple discharge or inversion, than the typical presentation of a painless lump in one breast. Women who previously had false alarms - earlier lumps that had been identified as benign, also took longer to go back to their physician.

In addition to breast cancer-specific issues, some women delayed seeking out their health care provider due to earlier negative experiences with health care, such as doctors dismissing previous potential cancer symptoms or other chronic health care conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, which were more debilitating.  And finally, some women simply delayed going to their doctor because they were too busy.

This research highlights the need for additional work to educate both women and health care providers on both the physical symptoms of cancer and other strategies to encourage earlier presentation. In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness month, get informed about the risks and symptoms of breast cancer. Read the entire article in Current Oncology and stay tuned for our next blog which will discuss the other end of the cancer time-line, survivorship!

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