Family and Friends Aid Breast Cancer Decisions A University of Michigan study discovers nearly 75 percent of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer have a friend or family member with them at their first visit with a surgeon.

The importance of the support cannot be underestimated—the study found the colleague plays a major role in helping the women decide on the type of surgical procedure.

The study looked at factors affecting a woman’s choice between a mastectomy — removal of the entire breast — or a lumpectomy, which involves removing only the tumor and is followed by radiation treatments.

It 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 found 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 also found that factors such as concern about cancer recurrence, body image and the effects of radiation affected a woman’s surgery decision. Women who said that concerns about recurrence or radiation were very important in their surgical treatment decisionmaking were more likely to choose mastectomy, while women very concerned about body image were more likely to have lumpectomy.

“We want to ensure a woman’s decision is high quality, which means it’s based on accurate knowledge about treatment risks and benefits and is consistent with the underlying values of the patient,” Hawley says.

The researchers plan to develop a decision tool to help women and their families understand the surgical decision, and future studies will look at the issues important to patients and their spouses around decision making.

The paper appears in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Source: University of Michigan