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Many Women With Breast Cancer Have Poor Knowledge About Their Condition

Authors call for improved patient education

A new analysis has found 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. Published early online in Cancer, a journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings highlight the need to educate patients about their health conditions, which could lead to more informed treatment decisions.

Having knowledge about their own health conditions or their risk of developing different conditions can help women take steps to maintain or improve their health, the article says. Although previous studies have examined general cancer knowledge, no prior study has examined 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 determine how knowledgeable they were about their own cancers, including the tumor stage, grade, and receptor status (also known as breast cancer subtype).

Overall, 32% to 82% reported that they knew each of the tumor characteristics that they were asked about, whereas only 20% to 58% actually reported these characteristics correctly. Black and Hispanic women were often less likely than white women to know their cancer characteristics, even after accounting for socioeconomic status and health literacy. After accounting for health literacy and educational attainment in particular, some of the knowledge deficits went away for Hispanic women, but health literacy had little effect on the findings 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,” Freedman said. “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.”

Freedman noted that improved understanding of one’s tumor characteristics and the reasons for personalized treatment recommendations could also improve a woman’s trust of, confidence in, and satisfaction with her cancer treatment providers.

Sources: Wiley; January 26, 2015; and Cancer; January 26, 2015.

 

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