The study of nearly 600 women recently diagnosed with breast cancer suggested that strategies to improve early diagnosis of breast cancer should take a woman's financial situation into account.
"Because we discovered that women who are less financially comfortable are more likely to delay seeking medical attention for breast abnormalities that later are diagnosed as breast cancer, it appears that economic disparity may be an important consideration in future development of interventions to reduce delays," said study leader Dr. Kathryn Ruddy, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The study was published online Nov. 11 in the journal Cancer.
"The findings may lead to research focusing on whether reducing co-pays and hidden costs of seeking medical care -- such as parking charges, child-care expenses and lost wages -- may improve the timeliness of diagnosis in this population," Ruddy said in a journal news release.
The survey of women aged 40 and younger revealed that 80 percent of them found an abnormality in their breast on their own. Seventeen percent waited at least three months before seeing a doctor.
Moreover, 12 percent of the women who delayed seeing a doctor experienced a lapse of at least 90 days between that appointment and receiving their diagnosis.
Major delays in seeking treatment affect only a minority of women who detect their own breast cancer, the researchers said. As a result, other factors, such as the type of tumor, likely have a bigger influence on breast cancer results.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides more information on cancer health disparities.