Open Access Open Badges Research article

Identifying women at risk for delayed presentation of breast cancer: a cross-sectional study in Estonia

Kaire Innos1*, Peeter Padrik23, Vahur Valvere45, Evelyn Eelma2, Riina Kütner6, Jaak Lehtsaar2 and Mare Tekkel1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, National Institute for Health Development, Tallinn, Estonia

2 Clinic of Hematology and Oncology, Tartu University Hospital, Tartu, Estonia

3 Clinic of Hematology and Oncology, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia

4 Clinic of Hematology and Oncology, North Estonia Medical Centre, Tallinn, Estonia

5 Competence Centre for Cancer Research, Tallinn, Estonia

6 Clinic of Surgery, North Estonia Medical Centre, Tallinn, Estonia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:947  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-947

Published: 9 October 2013



Survival from breast cancer remains lower in Estonia than in most other European countries. More advanced stage and larger tumors that have impact on survival may be a result of delay in seeking help for breast cancer symptoms. The aim of this study was to identify determinants of delayed presentation among breast cancer patients in Estonia.


The study population included women with primary breast cancer diagnosed in Estonia in 2008–2010. All data were collected using structured personal interviews carried out by trained nurses in the hospital setting. Only patients with self-discovered symptoms were included in this analysis. Patient delay was measured as time elapsing from symptom self-discovery to first medical consultation. The effect of different factors on the likelihood of prolonged delay (>90 days) was evaluated using logistic regression.


Among 703 eligible patients, median patient delay was 16 days (interquartile range 5–54 days). Seventeen percent of the patients had their first medical consultation more than three months after self-detection of symptoms. In multivariate analysis, the risk of prolonged delay was significantly associated with age 65 years and over (OR 2.27, 95% CI 1.23–4.20), current smoking (OR 2.09, 95% CI 1.21–3.61), symptoms other than painless breast lump or breast pain (OR 1.84, 95% CI 1.08–3.16), no history of mammograms (OR 1.83, 95% CI 1.13–2.95), having received no information on breast cancer during past year (OR 1.77, 95% CI 1.05–2.99), and previous benign breast problems (OR 1.65, 95% CI 1.01–2.67). Non-significant risk increase was seen with lower education.


This study provides evidence that factors associated with delayed presentation of breast cancer in Eastern Europe are similar to those observed in Western countries. The results suggest that educational messages to general population should aim at increasing awareness of “non-lump” symptoms of breast cancer and encouraging women of all ages to present in a timely manner. Women at risk for delayed presentation such as smokers and women with no history of mammograms could be identified in the primary care setting.

Breast cancer; Delayed presentation; Primary care; Women’s health; Smoking; Mammography