Purpose: Delays initiating cancer therapy are increasingly common, impact outcomes, and have implications for health equity. However, it remains unclear (1) whether patients’ beliefs regarding acceptable diagnostic to treatment intervals align with current guidelines, and (2) to what degree psychological factors contribute to longer intervals. We conducted a qualitative study with patients and cancer care team members (“providers”). Methods: We interviewed patients with several common solid tumors as well as providers. Interviews were analyzed using an interpretive approach, guided by modified grounded theory. Results: Twenty-two patients and 12 providers participated. Half of patients had breast cancer; 27% waited >60 days between diagnosis and treatment. Several themes emerged. (1) Patients felt treatment should begin immediately following diagnosis, while providers’ opinion on the goal timeframe to start treatment varied. (2) Patients experienced psychological distress while waiting for treatment. (3) Participants identified logistical, social, and psychological sources of delay. Fear related to multiple aspects of cancer care was common. Emotion-driven barriers could manifest as not taking steps to move ahead, or as actions that delayed care. (4) Besides addressing logistical challenges, patients believed that education and anticipatory guidance, from their care team and from peers, may help overcome psychological barriers to treatment and facilitate the start of therapy. Conclusions: Patients feel an urgency to start cancer therapy, desiring time frames shorter than those included in guidelines. Psychological distress is frequently both a contributor to, and a consequence of, treatment delays. Addressing multilevel barriers, including psychological ones, may facilitate timely treatment and reduce distress.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number13
Pages (from-to)13
Number of pages14
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • Breast Neoplasms/diagnosis
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Qualitative Research


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