Does Embarrassment Contribute to Delay in Seeking Medical Care for Breast Cancer? A Review

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Mohamadreza Neishaboury
Kamelia Davoodzadeh
Mojgan Karbakhsh


Shame, health care, patient delay, breast cancer, embarrassment


Background: Embarrassment and shame of visiting a doctor for a breast disease are among psychosocial factors that potentially contribute to delay in seeking medical advice. The purpose of this study is to review the published literature to determine if embarrassment regarding breast examination, diagnosis and treatment is associated with patient delay.

Methods: We searched PubMed with the following key terms: patient acceptance of health care (MeSH), breast neoplasms/psychology (MeSH), shame (MeSH), embarrassment, delayed diagnosis, to find relevant literature published before August 2015.

Results: The studies that explicitly assessed the association between embarrassment and delay for seeking medical advice for breast cancer were very limited. Among these studies, only 2 were quantitative studies, 4 were based on qualitative research and 4 were reviews. Other studies assessed attitudes in population-based surveys or included patients (females and males) suffering from different types of cancer.

Conclusions: Women should be educated that diseases of the breast need to be cared for as health issues in other parts of the body. They should be informed that embarrassment in this regard is not related to grace and integrity but can be potentially life-threatening. Further research is necessary to quantify the association of embarrassment or shame with delay in seeking diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. More research can elucidate the ways that the negative impact of shame/embarrassment can be minimized in different ethnic groups.

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