Family practitioners, obstetrician-gynecologists, and internists are gatekeeper physicians with the first professional opportunity to detect breast cancer. When they fail, the results can be fatal.
The women most affected by delay in diagnosis tend to be young (under 40). They typically have relatively high socioeconomic status and are covered by private health insurance.
A delay of an average of 13 to 15 months precedes the ultimate diagnosis of breast cancer. When the diagnosis is eventually made, the cancer will be at a more advanced stage.
In three studies of women with breast cancer diagnostic errors, over 80 percent of the women discovered their breast mass and then went to see a doctor. The failure of the physician to be concerned about the mass accounts for most of these errors. Many errors are attributed to the physician’s disbelief that cancer occurs in young women.
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