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Study Reveals Breast Cancer Patients Don’t Understand the Details of the Disease

By Kai Wade - Director of Communications & Social Media | January 27th, 2015

A new study published in the journal Cancer reveals that many women with breast cancer don’t understand their disease — with only 20 to 58 percent of women identifying characteristics correctly.

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast. A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. While the disease occurs almost entirely in women, men are also susceptible to breast cancer. The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender (being a woman) and aging.

Lead researchers examined breast cancer patient’s answers to specific questions about the grade, stage and subtype of their tumor. The findings have resulted in a concerning gap in patient education.

It is important for patients of any disease to entirely understand the condition — to not only help them make better informed treatment decisions, but also to reduce the risk of developing new conditions.

Breast Cancer Knowledge

Rachel Freedman, lead researcher and a physician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, surveyed 500 women with breast cancer.

The results — indicated that 32-82 percent of participants said they knew each of the tumor characteristics they were asked about, however only 20-58 percent could detail them correctly.

White women were more likely to know the features of their cancers than black or Hispanic women. This was the case even when the researchers corrected for potential influencing factors such as health literacy and socioeconomic status.

Prof. Freedman stated, “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.”

"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."

Education and Breast Cancer

Increased knowledge of breast cancer can also help woman understand the reasons behind a particular personalized therapy, increase confidence for the extensive journey ahead, and help women to become realistically gratified with each treatment stage.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are currently about 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the US. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. About 12 percent of women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of a lifetime.

About 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.

More than one million people in the United States get cancer each year. Explore in-depth information on cancer and what causes it, as well the specific types of cancer, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

To schedule a consultation with a health professional, contact a cancer care doctor (oncologist) near you.




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This article was written by the medical research team at does not intend for any of the information on this site to be regarded as medical advice - it is meant as a starting point for understanding treatment details and options before contacting a registered, licensed doctor. We advise all patients to seek medical advice from a doctor.
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