In a study published in the journal CANCER, researchers discovered that a lot of women with breast cancer actually don't know many specifics about their condition.
Rachel Freedman, M.D., M.P.H. from Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and colleagues asked 500 women about their breast cancer to determine how knowledgeable they were about their condition. The women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and 2011 and were questioned about the grade and stage of their tumors and whether or not their cancer is fueled by a protein known as HER 2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) or the hormone estrogen. Tumor grade refers to how aggressive a cancer is while tumor stage points to how advanced the condition is.
According to the results of the study, 32 to 82 percent of the women surveyed understand what the tumor characteristics they were asked about were. However, only 20 percent to 58 percent of those who understood tumor characteristics actually reported correct details about their tumors.
After accounting for health literacy and socioeconomic status, the study also showed that Hispanic and black women were often likelier than their Caucasian counterparts to not know specifics about their tumors. Some improvement was recorded in Hispanic women when educational attainment was factored in but health literacy did very little to boost numbers for black women.
"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.
She added that improving the level of understanding in patients about why certain treatment options are important in addressing their individual situation will help patients not only in making more informed choices about their condition but in sticking to treatments as well which improves efficacy. At the same time, an understanding of what's really going on in their bodies will help women with breast cancer in trusting their treatment providers, elevating confidence and satisfaction levels in their health care.
Breast cancer cases have actually been dropping since 2000 but there remains the prevalence where one out of every eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. A woman's risk for developing breast cancer roughly doubles when a first-degree relative, like a mother or sister, has been diagnosed with the condition. Around 15 percent of women diagnosed have at least one family member with the same condition.