Poorer Scottish women in dark over breast cancer

Cancer Research UK

More affluent women are better informed and less likely to suffer from anxiety after treatment for breast cancer than less privileged women, according to a study published in this week's British Journal of Cancer1.

Research funded by Cancer Research UK Scotland examined whether women of different social status, who had been treated for breast cancer, had different levels of anxiety and support. Previous studies have shown that women with more affluent lifestyles have better survival and quality of life than poorer women. Experts believe that knowledge is key to an enhanced quality of life.

Breast cancer remains the most common cancer for women in Scotland with more than 3,600 cases diagnosed annually.

In the new study 177 Glasgow women were questioned about sources of their knowledge on breast cancer. Researchers found striking differences. Affluent women were more likely than women in deprived areas to report getting information and support from their hospital specialist or breast cancer nurse.

The results reveal that only 40 per cent of poorer women reported using breast cancer nurses as an information source compared with 70 per cent of affluent women.

The researchers found a similar pattern with other information sources. Overall, the women said they were most likely to receive information from their specialist. Seventy-six per cent of women from deprived areas asked their specialist for information compared with 95 per cent of affluent women.

The GP was a near equal source of information for both groups of women, with affluent women slightly higher at 57 per cent, and poorer women at 54 per cent.

Examining the media as a source of information, researchers found further examples of the rich-poor divide. Nearly half of affluent women cited newspapers as a source compared with less than a quarter of poorer women. Over half of the affluent women also cited magazines compared with less than a third of poorer women. Other sources, leaflets and television news, also followed this trend with a larger percentage of affluent than poorer women using them.

Dr Una Macleod, lead researcher on the study says: "This study, for the first time, throws light on the differences in where women from deprived and affluent areas find their information. The less privileged group were less likely to seek information from their specialist or breast cancer nurse. This may be partly due to the constraints of attending hospital appointments - which might include things like the cost of travel, child care and loss of wages. There may also be differences in their recollection of the information they received."

She adds: "Access to good quality and reliable information can be limited for a variety of reasons, from not knowing where to look for it to a lack of time. Another important finding of the study was that poorer women were more likely to suffer from anxiety regarding money, other health problems and family issues. Health professionals need to be aware of these difficulties when treating patients."

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's Director of Cancer Information says: "This study highlights the difference in uptake of information by different socioeconomic groups and the need to address this. It is vital that information is tailored to the audience and targeted to those who need it most. All women, regardless of where they live, should have access to the best possible information and support."

ENDS

  1. British Journal of Cancer91 pp.879-883

Notes to Editor

  • Carstairs Deprivation Index was used to classify women into affluent or deprived groups according to residential address in Glasgow.
  • Information sourcing from the internet was not investigated as all women were diagnosed in 1992 and 1993, and internet usage was seen as minimal at this time. Further studies would need to include this.
  • Visit CancerHelp UK for clear, easy to understand information about cancer and cancer treatments.

Follow the five-point breast aware code:

  • know what is normal for you
  • look and feel
  • know what changes to look for
  • report any changes without delay
  • go for breast screenings if you are 50 or over

Look out for these warning signs of breast cancer:

  • changes in the shape, appearance or feel of your breasts
  • a lump in one breast or armpit which is different from the other side or is new
  • any puckering or dimpling of the skin
  • nipple discharge, a rash or a change in nipple position
  • pain or discomfort in one breast that is different from normal

Report any of these changes to your doctor without delay. Such changes may have other causes but should always be investigated.