Intended for healthcare professionals


Women remain confused about breast cancer

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 27 February 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:600
  1. Margaret Spittle, Consultant clinical oncologist,
  2. Delyth Morgan, Chief executive
  1. Department of Radiology and Oncology, Middlesex Hospital, London W1N 8AA
  2. Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Kingsway House, London WC2B 6QX

    EDITOR—Lavelle and Charlton correctly identify the need for a new baseline of women's views on breast cancer.1 A clear understanding of the fears and myths associated with the condition is useful to doctors and forms a critical component of any health education programme. A recent opinion poll conducted on behalf of Breakthrough Breast Cancer may help to shed some additional light on women's perception of the disease. MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1045women aged over 15years throughout Great Britain. Interviews were conducted face to face, in the women's homes in 151sampling points.

    From a list of 11comparable conditions breast cancer emerged as the condition that women were most concerned about having (table). Overall, 56% of women cited breast cancer as one of the conditions that they most feared; the nearest runner up was cervical cancer, cited by 38%. Interestingly, breast cancer was the leading health fear in all age ranges except women aged 15to 24.In this age group breast cancer was second to HIV (53% and 59% respectively).

    Reponses of women (n=1045) when asked to identify the two or three diseases they feared most from a list of 11

    View this table:

    The poll also revealed that 58% of women either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that breast cancer is more likely to be inherited than caused by a person's environment, lifestyle, or behaviour. The confusion about risk factors for breast cancer extended to specifics. Unprompted, only 15% of women mentioned a healthy diet as a means of reducing risk of breast cancer. After the women were given a list of potential means of reducing risk the figure only rose to 52%.

    The poll, although limited in scope, indicates the degree of fear of the disease that exists among women. This fear may hamper screening and cause delay in seeking treatment. The results also show confusion about risk factors.