Delays to breast cancer diagnosis and treatment initiation are associated with worsened outcomes. However, population-based screening is impractical in many low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) because of resource constraints and a lack of capacity to effectively diagnose and treat screen-detected disease. Mexico and Peru have similar mortality-to-incidence ratios for breast cancer. Unlike Peru, Mexico has attempted to implement mammography screening, although it remains opportunistic with low (20%) national coverage rates. The aim of this study was to compare delays and describe barriers to care among breast cancer patients in Mexico and Peru.
This international cross-sectional study included breast cancer patients interviewed at four public cancer hospitals in Mexico City between 2009 and 2011, and a federally-funded regional cancer institute in Trujillo, Peru in 2015. A Breast Cancer Delays Questionnaire, developed and validated in Mexico and modified for Peru, was administered to breast cancer patients during routine hospital visits at each location. Patient-related, diagnostic, and treatment delays were quantified, and barriers to care identified.
We included data from 597 Mexican women and 113 Peruvian women. Age at diagnosis did not differ between countries (53 years [Mexico] vs 54 years [Peru], p=0·266). Most women in both countries had breast cancer detected by symptoms (84% [Mexico] vs 93% [Peru]; p<0·001), although more women in Mexico were diagnosed by mammography screening (12% vs 6%) and screening clinical breast examination (4% vs 1%). Of patients with available stage information, the majority of disease was AJCC stage II or III at diagnosis (76% [n=597, Mexico] vs 91% [93, Peru]; p=0·014). More women in Mexico were diagnosed at an early stage (AJCC stage 0 or I) (14% [Mexico] vs 4% [Peru]). Total delay (symptom discovery or screening to initiation of treatment) did not differ between the two countries (median 210 days [IQR 128–415; n=597] Mexico vs 201 days [82–442; n=74] Peru; [p=0·71]). Diagnostic delay (first medical consultation to diagnosis) was the greatest contributor to overall delay (113 days [59–250; n=597, Mexico] vs 174 days [40–396; n=95, Peru]; p=0·105). Approximately 60% of all patients had diagnostic delays greater than 3 months. Less than half (44%) of Mexican patients visited more than two health-care facilities before the cancer centre, compared with 71% of Peruvian patients (p<0·001). Patients in both countries reported that barriers to prompt arrival at the cancer centre were: not knowing where to go, lack of money, spread out appointments, and diagnostic errors.
Improved diagnostic and referral systems are necessary to reduce delays to breast cancer care in Mexico and Peru. Such improvements are prerequisites to the establishment of maximally effective mammography screening programmes in LMICs.