Many breast cancer patients are unfamiliar with basic information about their disease. Researchers who recently surveyed patients regarding tumor stage, grade and hormone receptor status were surprised by the amount of women without accurate knowledge of these cancer characteristics. Without information about their condition, women miss out on opportunities to improve their health and outcomes.

Do Breast Cancer Patients Understand Their Disease?

Few studies have investigated whether women with breast cancer understand specific details about their cancer. In a survey of 500 women, researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston sought to find out how much women actually know about their disease. Results were published in the January 2015 issue of Cancer (American Cancer Society journal).

In response to four questions about tumor stage, grade and hormone receptor status, 32 percent to 82 percent reported that they knew the answer. However, only 20 percent to 58 percent were actually correct. Black and Hispanic women were less likely to know their characteristics than white women. Overall, only 10 percent of white women and 6 percent of black and Hispanic women were able to answer all four questions correctly.

“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,” wrote lead researcher, Rachel Freedman, MD, MPH. “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.”

Researchers did not investigate the reasons for patients’ lack of knowledge regarding their disease. However, they speculated contribution factors could be variations in physician approach to providing information and the feeling of being overwhelmed with a diagnosis.

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What Can Health Care Professionals Do to Help?

With accurate knowledge of their cancers, breast cancer patients can better understand their treatment plan and ways that they can improve their overall health. Researchers noted that physicians and other health care professionals can take steps to address this knowledge gap.

  • Educate patients about cancer characteristics, such as tumor grade, stage and hormone receptor status.
  • Engage in conversations with patients to ensure they truly understand specific information about their condition.
  • Make information accessible, accurate and available in formats that patients prefer.
  • Talk to patients about the ways that lifestyle choices affect their health.

Breastlink’s multidisciplinary approach requires empowering patients with information about their disease to enable shared decision making. We strive to help women, whether one of our patients or a member of the community, to learn more about how they can prevent breast cancer or improve their odds if they have been diagnosed.

If you are a woman diagnosed with breast cancer or if you would like more information, please contact us.