Are changes in breast self-exam recommendations and early misperceptions of breast cancer risk increasing women's future risks?

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Abstract

Objective:

Young women, high school age, are exposed to breast cancer messages targeting adult women that can result in misperceptions, increasing future risks. Changes in breast self-exam screening recommendations may reduce nurse practitioner (NP) time addressing breast health. This study characterized misperceived knowledge of breast cancer risk in younger women.

Method:

A survey (338 high school students aged 14 to 19) was conducted to assess their perceptions of breast cancer etiologies and risk behaviors.

Results:

Survey results indicated 20% to 50% of students had misperceptions about breast cancer risk, and the mean knowledge score for all items was 65.47%. There were no differences in students with familial breast cancer histories or those instructed in breast self-exam. Approximately 12% reported being fearful, avoiding public health messages, and approximately 20% thought breastfeeding increased breast cancer risk.

Implications for practice:

The findings suggest that school-based programs are not addressing misperceptions related to breast health effectively. A National Cancer Institute survey found that NPs and other providers are the most trusted sources of health information. Given the low rates of breast cancer in young women and recommendations against teaching breast self-exam, it is important for NPs to be knowledgeable about common misperceptions and address them with their patients.

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