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Many Women Unclear About Breast Cancer Treatments

Study finds uncertainty about risks and benefits of mastectomies or lumpectomies.

MONDAY, March 31 (HealthDay News) -- Only half the women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer clearly understand the risks and benefits of a mastectomy versus a breast-conserving lumpectomy plus radiation, even after they have one of the procedures, according to a new study.

If the woman is black or Hispanic, the chances are even less likely she has adequate information, say researchers whose results appear in the latest online issue of the journal Health Services Research.

The study looked at 1,132 women from Detroit and Los Angeles who had undergone surgery for ductal carcinoma in situ or invasive but not metastatic breast cancer. The women reported their race and ethnicity, knowledge of survival and recurrence, and cancer topics they had discussed with their surgeons, who also were surveyed.

Only 51 percent of women in the study knew that patients who had a mastectomy or a lumpectomy plus radiation had the same five-year survival rate. Forty-eight percent of the women reported not knowing whether cancer recurrence rates were the same for mastectomy as they were for a lumpectomy with radiation.

The survey also revealed that black and Hispanic women were less likely to know about breast cancer survival and recurrence, as were older women and those with less education.

"Overall, women were not generally well-informed about the risks and benefits of the treatment they received," study lead author Sarah Hawley, a research assistant professor at the University of Michigan Health System and research investigator at the Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System, said in a prepared statement.

Women who said their surgeons discussed both treatment options did know more about survival and recurrence rates, but minority women still lagged in survival and recurrence knowledge, Hawley said.

"The authors' finding of racial and ethnic differences in knowledge of survival and recurrence according to surgical treatment are concerning because of their implications about possible suboptimal communication between surgeons and their ethnic minority patients," Dr. Leah Karliner, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not affiliated with the study, said in a prepared statement.

However, Karliner said the findings are only associations, and readers can't draw cause-and-effect conclusions about the results.

For women facing breast cancer treatment, they should always ask all of their questions before deciding on a treatment option and make sure they understand the reasons behind their doctors' recommendations for or against a particular treatment, Karliner said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about breast cancer.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Health Behavior News Service, news release, March 31, 2008

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