The Meaning of Breast Cancer Risk and Surveillance Behaviors Among High-Risk African-American Women

Oncology Nursing News, April 2011, Volume 5, Issue 2

A breast cancer diagnosis is a highly distressing, life-changing experience

Marlene Z. Cohen, PhD, RN, FAAN

A breast cancer diagnosis is a highly distressing, life-changing experience. A small study presented at the Oncology Nursing Society 11th National Conference on Cancer Nursing showed that just being at a higher risk for the disease can also alter a woman’s life.

“It was surprising to me how very distressing the risk status itself is to both the women and their loved ones,” said Marlene Z. Cohen, PhD, RN, FAAN, from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, in a press release. Cohen presented the research along with Janice Phillips, PhD, RN, FAAN, from the Nursing Research and Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics and Global Health, University of Chicago Medical Center, Illinois.

Janice Phillips, PhD, RN, FAAN

The researchers interviewed 19 African-American women aged 22 to 40 years who were considered to be at a high risk for breast cancer. High risk was defi ned as having a personal or family history of breast cancer and/or carrying a gene mutation linked to breast cancer. Overall, in women aged <45 years, African-American women’s risk for breast cancer is higher than Caucasian women’s risk. Young African-American women also frequently present at late stage with few treatment options.

A majority of study participants reported that the high-risk status had changed their life. They described how being at a higher cancer risk altered their relationships and interactions with their family and friends. “It was clear that education and support is needed for these women and their families, as well as for nurses who care for and counsel high-risk populations,” Phillips said in a press release.