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Cancer Nurs. 2001 Feb;24(1):35-42; quiz 43.

African American women and breast cancer: notes from a study of narrative.

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  • 1Epidemiology Department, University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston 77030, USA.


Survival after breast cancer and after all cancers is significantly worse for African American women than for others. Although many reasons have been proposed, no studies have explored the reception of messages about breast cancer by African American survivors of this disease, and how public images and discourses about breast cancer affects both their perceived risk for this disease and their experiences of illness. Narrative accounts of their lived experiences with breast cancer were collected from 23 African American survivors of breast cancer. Three themes have emerged: (a) Breast cancer is perceived to be a white woman's disease; (b) cancer is caused by experiences of repeated traumatic heartbreak; and finally, (c) there is a perceived lack of social support and understanding for the unique life experiences of the African American survivor of breast cancer. Nurses are on the front line of patient care. In the context of the managed care environment, they spend more time with patients than other health care providers and are soundboards for many patient concerns. As such, they can use the information provided in this study to inform high-risk women, current patients, partners, and other individuals in the medical community of how African American women might inaccurately access their personal risks for breast cancer, despite the public emphasis on this disease. Through the use of culturally sensitive pamphlets, nurses and other medical practitioners can also open discussions with underserved and minority patients as a means of realistically addressing some of these women's fears about breast cancer. These fears are barriers to effective cancer prevention because these individuals may consciously or unconsciously link a diagnosis of breast cancer, or even behaviors related to cancer prevention, to a potential death sentence.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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