Jan 19, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Breast Cancer Patients Have Limited Knowledge of Their Disease

Jan 26, 2015 10:34 PM EST

A new study published in the journal Cancer reveals that many women with breast cancer in the United States don't actually know much about their condition, with minority women being less likely to report accurate information about their tumors than Caucasian women.

Believed to be the first study to actually find out how much patients know about their particular form of cancer, researchers now believe there is a gap in patient education.

There are many benefits for patients to understand their condition, such as being able to make a more informed treatment decision, general healthcare in regards to the condition and helping to reduce the risk of developing new conditions.

Dr. Rachel Freedman, a physician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and her colleagues surveyed 500 women with breast cancer. The women were asked questions about the grade, stage and receptor status, otherwise known as the cancer subtype, about their cancer. The results showed that while 32-82 percent said they knew each of the tumor characteristics, only 20-58 percent could actually specify them correctly.

Caucasian women were more likely to know the features of their cancers compared to Hispanic or African-American women, and remained the case even after researchers corrected for potential influencing factors such as health literacy or socioeconomic status.

Prof. Freedman says their findings show that there is a lack of understanding among many patients about their particular cancers. She notes that the study identifies a "critical need for improved patient education and provider awareness of this issue," and adds that "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."

Increased knowledge about the particular features of each tumor will help women understand the reasons behind their particular personalized therapy.  This in turn can help increase trust and confidence, as well as satisfaction, with the physicians and other medical professionals providing treatment, the researchers say.

According to the American Cancer Society, currently there are approximately 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.  However, while the death rates have been steadily declining in American women since 1989, it is still the second leading cause of death in women, bested only by lung cancer.

The chance that breast cancer will be the reason for a woman's death in the U.S. is about 3 percent, or 1 in 36, according to the ACS.

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