Beliefs and perceptions about the causes of breast cancer: a case-control study
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Background: Attributions of causality are common for many diseases, including breast cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer can be reduced by modifications to lifestyle and behaviours to minimise exposure to specific risk factors, such as obesity. However, these modifications will only occur if women believe that certain behaviours/lifestyle factors have an impact on the development of breast cancer. Method: The Breast Cancer, Environment and Employment Study is a case-control study of breast cancer conducted in Western Australia between 2009 and 2011. As part of the study 1109 women with breast cancer and 1633 women without the disease completed a Risk Perception questionnaire in which they were asked in an open-ended question for specific cause/s to the development of breast cancer in themselves or in others. The study identified specific causal beliefs, and assessed differences in the beliefs between women with and without breast cancer. Results: The most common attributions in women without breast cancer were to familial or inherited factors (77.6%), followed by lifestyle factors, such as poor diet and smoking (47.1%), and environmental factors, such as food additives (45.4%). The most common attributions in women with breast cancer were to mental or emotional factors (46.3%), especially stress, followed by lifestyle factors (38.6%) and physiological factors (37.5%), particularly relating to hormonal history.Conclusions: While the majority of participants in this study provided one or more causal attributions for breast cancer, many of the reported risk factors do not correspond to those generally accepted by the scientific community. These misperceptions could be having a significant impact on the success of prevention and early detection programs that seek to minimise the pain and suffering caused by this disease. In particular, women who have no family history of the disease may not work to minimise their exposure to the modifiable risk factors.
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