Skip to main content

Factors associated with waiting time to breast cancer diagnosis among symptomatic breast cancer patients: a population-based study from Ontario, Canada

Webber C, Whitehead M, Eisen A, Holloway CMB, Groome PA. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2021; 187(1):225-35. Epub 2021 Jan 24. DOI:

Purpose — A prolonged time from first presentation to cancer diagnosis has been associated with worse disease-related outcomes. This study evaluated potential determinants of a long diagnostic interval among symptomatic breast cancer patients.

Methods — This was a population-based, cross-sectional study of symptomatic breast cancer patients diagnosed in Ontario, Canada from 2007 to 2015 using administrative health data. The diagnostic interval was defined as the time from the earliest breast cancer-related healthcare encounter before diagnosis to the diagnosis date. Potential determinants of the diagnostic interval included patient, disease and usual healthcare utilization characteristics. We used multivariable quantile regression to evaluate their relationship with the diagnostic interval. We also examined differences in diagnostic interval by the frequency of encounters within the interval.

Results — Among 45,967 symptomatic breast cancer patients, the median diagnostic interval was 41 days (interquartile range 20-92). Longer diagnostic intervals were observed in younger patients, patients with higher burden of comorbid disease, recent immigrants to Canada, and patients with higher healthcare utilization prior to their diagnostic interval. Shorter intervals were observed in patients residing in long-term care facilities, patients with late stage disease, and patients who initially presented in an emergency department. Longer diagnostic intervals were characterized by an increased number of physician visits and breast procedures.

Conclusions — The identification of groups at risk of longer diagnostic intervals provides direction for future research aimed at better understanding and improving breast cancer diagnostic pathways. Ensuring that all women receive a timely breast cancer diagnosis could improve breast cancer outcomes.