Helpseeking for self-discovered breast symptoms: Implications for early detection

Noreen C. Facione, Marylin J. Dodd, William Holzemer, Afaf I. Meleis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: Most breast cancer symptoms are discovered by women themselves, and at least one third of these women will be aware of their symptoms for 3 months or more before seeking an initial provider evaluation. The authors identify personal, social, and environmental influences on women's intention to seek an immediate provider evaluation (helpseek) versus to delay evaluation of a breast symptom that worried them. DESCRIPTION OF STUDY: Black women (N = 352) from the San Francisco Bay area women' organizations, community settings, and churches formed this convenience sample. Participants ranged across age, income, and educational levels. The survey contained 10 scales that measured health behavior variables, including new and existing scales augmented by items derived from prior interview and focus group investigations. RESULTS: Women of younger age and lower income were significantly less likely to intend to seek an evaluation for self-discovered breast symptoms. Single and partnered women were less likely to seek a provider evaluation than married or widowed women. Perceiving negative consequences of delaying, having previous habits of health-care utilization, perceiving access to services, and feeling fearful were positively related to the intention to seek evaluation of breast symptoms. Holding fatalistic beliefs about getting breast cancer or dying and perceiving constraints to seeing a provider negatively influenced helpseeking intention. Racism in the healthcare delivery system was perceived, but was not a significant influence on helpseeking intention. A multiple linear regression model containing these variables explained 46% of the variance in helpseeking intention. CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: This study shows that the intent to helpseek is not merely a matter of education and economics, but is dependent on a complex picture of personal, social, and economic factors. Gynecologic and primary care providers should consider this and the potential influences on helpseeking in the women for whom they provide cancer screening and early detection services. History taking should be expanded to assess women's ideas about the consequences of delaying evaluation of self-discovered breast symptoms, their sense of vulnerability to breast cancer, the constraints on cancer early detection they may be feeling related to role obligations, their economic or strategic limitations to accessing services, the pressures they may feel to hide a breast cancer symptom, or their own tendency to interpret the breast symptom as not threatening. Healthcare providers should not assume that helpseeking for breast symptoms is an automatic behavior for all women. Rather, providers should assess whether a woman is the one in three who will delay the evaluation of a breast cancer symptom she discovers herself for months or years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-227
Number of pages8
JournalCancer Practice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1997
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nursing(all)
  • Oncology


  • Breast cancer
  • Care seeking
  • Delay
  • Early detection
  • Helpseeking
  • Symptom- related behavior


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