A new study has discovered that women with breast cancer usually don’t know what kind of tumors they have.
Although lack of knowledge of one’s tumor features isn’t necessarily tied to worse outcomes, better knowledge might help women understand treatment decisions and take medications as directed.
Cancer patients who understand the basis for their treatment are generally more satisfied with that treatment.
The new study was published in the journal Cancer. 500 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 2010 and 2011 from northern California participated in the study.
The participants were asked about their tumor grade, tumor stage and whether or not their cancer feeds of the hormone estrogen or a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2).
55% of women said they knew whether or not their tumor fed off estrogen and about 1/3 know their HER2 status. Around 1/3 said they knew their tumor grade, which is the cancer’s aggressiveness. 82% of the participants know their tumor’s stage, which is how advanced the cancer is.
Based on individual medical records, only 56% of women correctly reported estrogen status, 58% correctly reported HER2 status and 57% correctly reported the stage. Only 1 in 5 women reported the correct grade.
Overall only about 8% of participants correctly answered all 4 questions. Researchers report that the lack of knowledge was more pronounced among minority women.
Although across the board numbers were low, there were distinct difference by race and ethnicity.
The results show that oncologists need to tailor their discussions about cancer to individual patients as much as they tailor the treatments. Cancer survivors should receive detailed treatment histories and information about their tumors for future medical care.
Researchers believe that this study raises awareness of the issues, and that this may be a more important issue than previously appreciated.