The effect of beliefs about breast cancer on stage and delay to presentation: results from a prospective study in urban South Africa
Background: The disparity in breast cancer survival in Africa is often linked to poor education and awareness leading to late diagnosis and subsequent reduced survival. This study was designed to explore the relationship of attitudes and beliefs held regarding breast cancer to the stage and delay to diagnosis in South Africa. This study provies an epidemiological analysis of the spectrum of disease and outcomes of primary amputation for diabetic foot sepsis in a regional rural hospital.
Methods: Women attending an open-access breast unit over 14 months with newly-diagnosed breast cancer answered a survey regarding their fears and beliefs of breast cancer care. Questions addressed demographic, socioeconomic and educational factors linked to delay, and documented time taken to care. Odds ratio with 95% confidence intervals were calculated to identify factors associated with advanced stage at presentation and delay greater than six months.
Results: Of the 233 participants the median (IQR) age was 56 years (46–65). The most common stage at presentation was Stage 3 (55%), with 30.5% presenting with T4 tumour at presentation. Most women believed cancer could be beaten (90.0%), and their families would support them (92.8%). They disagreed that cancer was a curse (93.8%), punishment (90.5%) or that alternative therapies or traditional healing would cure their cancer (75.3% and 85.5% respectively). On univariate analysis, age under 45 years and transport difficulties predicted advanced stage at presentation. No socio-economic factors or beliefs increased the risk of delay to presentation.
Conclusion: Participants’ beliefs about their new breast cancer were most commonly appropriate, and showed a low level of fatalism, in contrast to other studies in Africa. Whilst raising awareness may be important, efforts to increase awareness alone may not directly prevent the likelihood of late or advanced diagnosis in this population.