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Women Often Overestimate Odds of Early Breast Cancer Spreading

Misperceptions lead to worry that harms quality of life, researcher says

female patient

FRIDAY, March 4, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Many women treated for early breast cancer overestimate the odds of distant recurrence, and those fears can diminish their quality of life, according to research presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's 2016 Quality Care Symposium, held from Feb. 26 to 27 in Phoenix.

In this study, Sarah Hawley, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan School of Medicine in Ann Arbor, and colleagues focused only on fear of distant recurrence. A perceived risk of more than 10 percent for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and more than 20 percent for low-risk invasive cancer was considered an overestimate. The study involved 1,022 women newly diagnosed with either DCIS or low-risk invasive cancer. All were at low risk for distant recurrence.

More than one-third of those with DCIS and one quarter of those with low-risk invasive tumors overestimated their risk for distant recurrence, Hawley told HealthDay. She found that the more patients exaggerated their risk, the more they worried about recurrence, which affected their quality of life. Less-educated women were more likely than those with more education to fear the worst. Those who overestimated risk were two to three times more likely to worry about recurrence than those who did not overestimate. Some of these women also had lower mental health and physical health scores, Hawley said.

Hawley believes doctors can help patients understand their odds for wide-range spreading of cancer by using both numbers or percentages and wording such as "low" or "moderate." Also, women can educate themselves and ask their physicians to explain the risks in these terms.

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