Women’s Perceptions of Journeying Toward an Unknown Future With Breast Cancer: The “Lives at Risk Study”

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Abstract

Breast cancer risk classifications are useful for prognosis, yet little is known of their effect on patients. This study clarified women’s understandings of risk as they “journeyed” through the health care system. Breast cancer patients and women undergoing genetic investigation were recruited (N = 25) from a large UK Health Board, 2014–2015, completing a “Book of Experience,” and Bio-photographic elicitation interviews. Stakeholder and Participant Feedback Forums were undertaken with key stakeholders, including patients, oncologists, funders, and policy developers, to inform team understanding. Thematic and visual frameworks from multidisciplinary analysis workshops uncovered two themes: “Subjective Understandings of Risk” and “Journeying Toward an Unknown Future.” Breast cancer patients and women undergoing investigation experienced risk intuitively. Statistical formulations were often perplexing, diverting attention away from concrete life-and-death facts. Following risk classification, care must be co-defined to reduce patients’ foreboding about an unknown future, taking into consideration personal risk management strategies and aspirations for a cancer-free future.

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