Women with breast cancer: Sidelined by the Medical System

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Women with breast cancer want to be centrally involved in the decisions affecting their care and treatment. That's the conclusion of a Winnipeg study conducted between 1992 and 1994 with Manitoba women. It found that 58 percent of women with breast cancer feel left out of critical decisions about their treatment, and two-thirds would prefer to have either active or collaborative decision-making roles.

Winnipeg researchers Leslie Degner, Linda Kristjanson and colleagues interviewed over 1,000 women for the two-year study, representing 25 percent of all Manitoban women with breast cancer. The women were treated in four cancer clinics at Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital, Victoria Hospital and Grace Hospital.

The study spotlighted striking discrepancies between the decision-making roles women wanted to have and the roles they actually had. It also showed that, regardless of age or education, women have a strong need for information on the progression of their disease and the chances for cure. The study advocates systematic changes in the way health care providers communicate with breast cancer patients and suggests specific areas that should be addressed.

These findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 277, No. 18, May 14, 1997.