, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 185-199

Addressing women's breast cancer risk and perceptions of control in medical settings

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Many women with family histories of breast cancer deal with two distinct but related issues: their objective physical risk and the emotions this risk engenders. Studies indicate that approximately 70% of African American and white women are concerned about their chances of developing breast cancer someday and perceive themselves to be at risk. Health care providers, including psychologists, need to be aware of the special needs and psychosocial concerns of high-risk women with family histories of breast cancer, since perceptions of breast cancer risk influence screening practices. Providers need training in understanding the significance of specific family patterns of breast cancer, screening guidelines appropriate for women at risk, and the benefits and risks of available prevention options, including genetic screening. Delivering accurate information about both established risk factors known to elevate personal risk, such as age and family history, and factors which women associate with breast cancer, such as bumping and bruising a breast, smoking, and oral contraceptive use, is essential for promoting accurate risk perceptions and appropriate screening schedules.