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Family, Friends Influence Breast Cancer Decisions

Patients' supporters often play role in treatment discussions, study finds

THURSDAY, Sept. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Family and friends don't just serve as emotional support for breast cancer patients, they also help patients decide which kind of surgery to have, a new study has found.

About three-quarters of patients surveyed brought a family member or friend to their first appointment with a surgeon, and the accompanying person exerted influence on the patient, the University of Michigan researchers noted.

In particular, women who had a friend or family member accompany them to the first appointment were more likely to receive a mastectomy, compared with women who went alone. Women were also more likely to choose mastectomy if they themselves played a major role in driving the decision instead of the doctor, according to the study published in the Aug. 31 online edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study examined factors influencing a woman's choice between a mastectomy to remove the entire breast or breast-conserving surgery, which involves removing only the tumor and is followed by radiation treatments.

The researchers also found that Latina woman with little English-language skills were most likely to be influenced by their family members.

The findings come from a survey of 1,651 women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in the Detroit and Los Angeles regions.

"Family and friends have a potentially important role in treatment discussions. More than 70 percent of women brought someone with them to the appointment, providing a chance for surgeons to convey information to both the patient and her support person," lead study author Sarah Hawley, research associate professor of internal medicine at University of Michigan Medical School, said in a university news release. "Clearly, others help with and contribute to decision making, and may do so differently for different racial or ethnic groups."

More information

For more information on breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, Aug. 31, 2009

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