The present study assesses the time intervals from symptom discovery to treatment start and describes the health service use experiences of uninsured patients with cancer of the breast, cervix uteri, testicle, and prostate before their arrival to the cancer hospital. This cross-sectional study included 1468 patients who were diagnosed between June 2016 and May 2017 and received treatment for the selected cancers in two of the largest public cancer hospitals in Mexico City, financed through Seguro Popular. Data was collected through a survey administered via face-to-face interviews with patients and a review of their medical files. The median time between detection (symptom discovery or first abnormal screening test) and treatment start was 6.6 months. For all types of cancer, the longest interval was the diagnostic interval -between the first use of healthcare services and the confirmation of cancer. Less than 20% cancer patients were diagnosed in the earliest stages that are associated with the best chances of long-term survival. The participants described a high use of private services for their first consultation, the use of several different types of health services and multiple consultations before arrival to the cancer centers, and 35% perceived being misdiagnosed by the first doctor they consulted. Most cancer patients treated in the two largest public institutions available for the uninsured faced long delays to get diagnosed and started treatment at advanced stages. Strengthening quality and access for effective early cancer diagnosis and treatment is key to improve patient outcomes in low and middle-income settings.

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