Breast Cancer Patients Lack Knowledge of Their Tumors
Women with breast cancer often don’t know what kind of tumors they have, a new study found.
That’s not necessarily tied to worse outcomes, but better knowledge might help women understand treatment decisions and take medications as directed, said lead author Dr. Rachel Freedman from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Also, she said, cancer patients who understand the basis for their treatment are generally more satisfied with that treatment.
“Nobody to my knowledge has asked how much knowledge someone had of their own disease,” she added.
For the new study, released January 26 by the journal Cancer, Freedman and her colleagues asked 500 women from northern California about their breast cancers, which had been diagnosed between 2010 and 2011.
Participants were asked about their tumor grade, stage, and estrogen and HER2 receptor status.
Fifty-five percent of women said they knew their tumor’s estrogen receptor status, and about a third said they knew their HER2 status. About a third said they knew their tumor’s grade, and 82% of women said they knew their tumor’s stage.
Based on their medical records, only 56% of women reported the correct estrogen status, 58% reported the correct HER2 status and 57% reported the correct stage. Only about one in five women reported the correct grade.
Overall, only 8% of women correctly answered all four questions, but the lack of knowledge was more pronounced among minority women, the researchers report.
“Even though all these questions were low for all women, we did see difference by race and ethnicity,” Freedman said.
“What’s really nice about finding something like this is that it’s a modifiable problem,” Freedman said. “If you can improve education and provider awareness of this, you can do something about this in the clinic.”
Dr. Michelle Shayne of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health, “Breast cancer patients in general are a very savvy group of individuals.”
They “tend to read a lot and bring a lot of clippings in to their oncologist and ask a lot of questions,” she said, so the study findings surprised her.
The results show that oncologists need to tailor their discussions about cancer to individual patients as much as they tailor the treatments, she said.
Also, she said, cancer survivors should receive detailed treatment histories and information about their tumors for future medical care.
Freedman said that in her own practice, she’s been trying to explain patients’ cancers in more detail, writing down the specifics and making sure they understand the information.
“I think this raises awareness of the issue,” she said. “This may be a more important issue than we previously appreciated.”
New York (Reuters Health)