Many Women with Breast Cancer Have Poor Knowledge About Their Condition

A new analysis finds that many women with breast cancer lack knowledge about their illness, with minority patients less likely than white patients to know and report accurate information about their tumors’ characteristics. This further supports the need to better educate women about their health conditions so they can make more informed treatment decisions.The findings appear in the online version of CANCER, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

courtesy Gerry Lauzon CC license

Although previous studies have examined general cancer knowledge, this was the first study that looked at whether women actually know and understand the details about their own cancers. Rachel Freedman, MD, MPH, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and her colleagues surveyed 500 women with breast cancer to see how knowledgeable they were about their own cancers, including the tumor stage, grade, and receptor status (breast cancer subtype). While 32 percent to 82 percent reported knowing each of the tumor characteristics that they were asked about, only 20 percent to 58 percent actually reported these characteristics correctly.

Black and Hispanic women were often less likely than white women to know their cancer characteristics, even after adjusting for socioeconomic status and health literacy. 

“Our results illustrate the lack of understanding many patients have about their cancers and have identified a critical need for improved patient education and provider awareness of this issue,” said Freedman in a statement. “Improving patients’ understanding about why a particular treatment is important for her individual situation may lead to more informed decisions and better adherence to treatment.”  Understanding tumor characteristics and the reasons for personalized treatment recommendations could also improve a woman’s trust, confidence, and satisfaction with her cancer treatment providers, Freedman added.

Each year in the United States, more than 200,000 women get breast cancer and more than 40,000 women die from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

More information about breast cancer can be found through many research and advocacy organizations, including