What do South African women fear most about breast cancer?

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Published: 8 Dec 2015
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Dr Sarah Rayne - Helen Joseph Breast Care Clinic, Johannesburg, South Africa

Dr Rayne talks to ecancertv at AORTIC 2015 about her work looking at the fears expressed by women with breast cancers in South Africa.

She says that the majority of fears were to do with treatment and side effects and that this was true across different ethnic and socio-economic groups. Surprisingly, she says, fears of being unable to commit to treatment due to cost or conflicts with work or family responsibilities featured low on the list.

Where there was a divergence was in the fears surrounding death, but she argues that this was related to socioeconomic status rather than race.

This information can inform which aspects of awareness raising need to be focussed on, she says.



The fears expressed by women diagnosed with breast cancer is an interesting study that we did that actually forms part of my PhD. The hypothesis we were looking at is the idea that women’s experience of breast cancer is independent of social or racial factors. In fact, we found that surprisingly most women were afraid of the treatments that they would undergo in having breast cancer more than the barriers they would face. So we found that the most common fear was a fear of chemotherapy side effects, radiation and surgery and, in fact, the fears of being unable to afford treatment or being unable to make appointments because of work or family commitments came extremely low down the list.

Those fears were independent of a patient’s race; in fact, the only fear that was dependent on race was the fear of dying. When we looked at our analysis, obviously in South Africa we’ve got a very diverse population, but also because of the legacy of the country there is a significant overlap between low socio-economic state and black race. We found that probably most of the factors that were socio-economic related rather than purely racially related.

What can we do with this information?

What it can tell us is really what we should be making women aware of. We know that we should be making women aware of symptoms of breast cancer and how to get access but we need to go beyond that and we need to tell women about what treatments they can expect and about survival and about some of the good news that we’ve got about breast cancer, rather than just waiting until after they’re diagnosed to explain these things.