A new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center has found that about 75 percent of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer are accompanied by a friend or family member during their first visit to a surgeon. This person has a major role to play in deciding what kind of surgery the patient should have.
In the study, the researchers looked at factors affecting a woman's choice between a mastectomy to remove the entire breast or breast-conserving surgery, which involves removing only the tumor and is followed by radiation treatments.
They found that when the patient, rather than the doctor, drives the surgery decision, the patient is more likely to choose a mastectomy. This proved to be the case among all racial and ethnic groups.
The study also showed that women who had a friend or family member accompany them to the surgical consultation were more likely to receive a mastectomy, compared to women who attended the appointment alone.
Latinas who speak little English were most influenced by family in their decision-making: 75 percent, compared to 34 percent of white women.
"Family and friends have a potentially important role in treatment discussions. More than 70 percent of women brought someone with them to the appointment, providing a chance for surgeons to convey information to both the patient and her support person. Clearly, others help with and contribute to decision making, and may do so differently for different racial or ethnic groups," says lead study author Sarah Hawley, Ph.D., M.P.H., research associate professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School.
Researchers analyzed survey responses from 1,651 women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in the Detroit and Los Angeles metropolitan areas.
Patients were asked about their surgical treatment decision, including how involved they were in the decision making, whether a family member or friend accompanied them to the appointment and their attitudes toward surgery. Higher numbers of African Americans and Latinas were included.
The study appears online Aug. 31 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.