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Worry About Recurrence Linked to Ethnic Background

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A study found that a woman's level of worry about breast cancer coming back (recurrence) is linked to her ethnic background. The research was published online in the journal Cancer.

After surgery to remove breast cancer, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and hormonal therapy are given to reduce the risk of recurrence. Doctors call these treatments "adjuvant" treatments because they're given after the primary treatment (surgery). Even with adjuvant treatment, some women will have a breast cancer recurrence. Because the risk of recurrence is real, almost all women have some level of concern about it. This study wanted to know if women of various ethnic backgrounds had different levels of worry about their risk of recurrence.

The researchers sent a survey to 3,133 U.S. women of various ethnic backgrounds who had been treated for breast cancer. The women were asked how much they worried about the risk of recurrence; 1,837 women completed the entire survey.

Fear of breast cancer recurrence was greatest among Hispanic women, particularly Hispanic women who mainly spoke Spanish:

  • 46% of Latinas who spoke mostly Spanish said they worried very much about recurrence; 10% said they weren't worried about recurrence
  • 25% of Latinas who spoke mostly English said they worried very much about recurrence; 19% said they weren't worried about recurrence

White women were less likely than Hispanic women to worry about their risk of recurrence:

  • 14% of white women said they worried very much about recurrence; 20% said they weren't worried about recurrence

African American women were least likely to worry about their risk of recurrence:

  • 13% of African American women said they worried very much about recurrence; 29% said they weren't worried about recurrence

Among all the women who completed the survey, several factors were linked to greater worry about recurrence:

  • being younger
  • being employed
  • problems with pain or being tired
  • treatment that included radiation therapy

Other factors were linked to less worry about recurrence:

  • better understanding of diagnosis and treatment information
  • more help managing breast cancer symptoms or treatment side effects
  • more coordinated care from the medical team

Fearing breast cancer and its recurrence is understandable. Still, too much fear can make a woman believe her future is bleak. She may not see the value of taking steps to reduce the risk of recurrence. This study found that a better understanding of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment led to less worry about recurrence. Belief in the power of knowledge is why Breastcancer.org exists. Our mission is to help women and their loved ones make sense of the complex medical and personal information about breast cancer, so they can make the best decisions for their lives.

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