A new study from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons this month, shows that most women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer are not well-informed of their treatment options. Many, in fact, are not even meaningfully involved in treatment discussions or asked their preferences regarding the treatment's approach.
The study is a retrospective conducted amongst women who were treated at one of four academic medical centers in Boston, San Francisco and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The women were surveyed with questions regarding their knowledge of breast cancer treatment options and then asked about their dealings with physicians and surgeons before treatment began.
The women averaged only 52.7% in their test scores on treatment knowledge and understanding and only 48.6% of them said they'd held conferences with surgeons or physicians about their treatment options in light of the options given on the test itself.
The knowledge gaps are considered a big problem, though this is the first time a study has attempted to get an overall picture of breast cancer awareness amongst those diagnosed with it. Most studies to this point have focused on specific treatments or cancer types.
One of the more problematic issues raised was the fact that most women were not informed that survival rates for alternatives to mastectomy, such as breast-conservation therapy, are the same. Further, those with a partial mastectomy were less likely to understand recurrence rates versus those who had a full mastectomy - despite the fact that rates are usually higher in partials.
The study sheds light on the long strides needed to improve education in breast cancer amongst the general populace and especially in women who have been diagnosed or are at risk.