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Many Breast Cancer Patients Lack Knowledge of Their Disease

Problem more pronounced among minority women

TUESDAY, Jan. 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Many women with breast cancer lack basic knowledge about their disease, such as their cancer stage and other characteristics, according to a study published online Jan. 26 in Cancer.

Rachel Freedman, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and colleagues asked 500 women four questions about their cancer, including questions about tumor stage, grade, and hormone receptor status. Overall, 32 to 82 percent of women reported that they knew the answers to these questions. But only 20 to 58 percent were actually correct, depending on the characteristics. Just 10 percent of white women and 6 percent of black and Hispanic women knew all of their cancer characteristics correctly.

Two-thirds of white women and about half of black and Hispanic women were able to correctly identify their cancer’s stage. Just 24 percent of white women, 15 percent of black women, and 19 percent of Hispanic women knew what their cancer grade was. Almost two-thirds of white women, and just over half of black and Hispanic women were able to answer the question about human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 status accurately. Seventy percent of white women knew their estrogen receptor status, but fewer than half of the black and Hispanic women did.

Black and Hispanic women were less likely than white women to know and have correct responses in each measure. Even after the researchers took into account women’s education and their health literacy, there were still racial and ethnic differences. While the results were disappointing, Freedman told HealthDay, hopefully, “this is a modifiable problem.”

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