Breast Cancer Patients Lack Knowledge About Their Disease


A significant portion of women with breast cancer lack basic knowledge about their disease characteristics. These results were recently published in the journal Cancer.

As treatment advances toward more individualized approaches for breast cancer, information of specific tumor and disease characteristics becomes more extensive. Therefore, a patient’s ability to have access to information, as well as understanding information, about their disease has become more important for understanding their treatment options, as well as managing side effects of therapy.

Researchers recently conducted a study to evaluate the extent in which women with breast cancer understand their tumor and disease characteristics. The study included 500 women from Northern California diagnosed with stages 0-III breast cancers between 2010-2011.

Knowledge of 3 basic tumor characteristics was assessed: stage, receptor status and grade.

Only 20%-58% of women correctly reported these characteristics of their cancer.
Black and Hispanic women were less likely than white women to correctly report receptor status (ER and HER2-status) and stage.
The researchers reported that “Education and health literacy were significantly associated with knowing and having correct information about some characteristics, but these variables did not eliminate most of the racial/ethnic differences observed.”
Overall, a significant portion of women are not able to correctly report basic facts of their cancer diagnosis. Education, health literacy and racial/ethnic differences were all significant factors in the understanding of their disease.

Healthcare providers should take the time to carefully explain basic variables of tumor characteristics to patients with breast cancer so that increased awareness and self-care is obtainable in this patient population.

Reference: Freedman R, Kouri E, West D, Keating N, et al. Racial/ethnic disparities in knowledge about one’s breast cancer characteristics. Cancer. published online: 26 JAN 2015. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.28977.