Background: Schizophrenia has a powerful impact on the outcomes of treatment for physical disorders. This study sought to estimate how the presence of schizophrenia disrupts the course of diagnosis and initial treatment of breast cancer. Methods: We searched the Patient Treatment File, a comprehensive computer-based system for inpatient data in the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) medical system, to identify patients with codes for schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder who later developed breast cancer. These data were augmented with chart-based clinical data. Results: There were 56 evaluable patients from 34 DVA facilities; 37 (66%) were female. Delay in diagnosis was common. The mean size of the primary tumor was 4 cm in those for whom these data were recorded. Delay in diagnosis was common and many never received the indicated surgery. Distant metastases were present on diagnosis in 12 (21%) and developed after diagnosis in 14 (25%) others, including 7 who inappropriately delayed or refused indicated surgery and 4 who inappropriately delayed or refused indicated neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Twelve verbally abused or physically attacked caregivers. Conclusions: Patients with schizophrenia who later develop breast cancer often deny they have cancer. They often have high-stage disease at diagnosis and often delay or refuse therapy. Breast-conserving multimodality therapy is often not feasible.
- Breast cancer