Low-income women with early-stage breast cancer: physician and patient decision-making styles

Psychooncology. 2001 Mar-Apr;10(2):137-46. doi: 10.1002/pon.503.


Background: Poor women have low rates of breast conservation therapy not explained by differences in insurance status or treatment preferences. The purpose of this study was to explore how low-income women make decisions about breast cancer treatment.

Methods: Twenty-five women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer through the Nebraska Every Woman Matters program were interviewed about their experiences selecting treatment options. These interviews were transcribed and then analysed using established qualitative techniques.

Results: More than half of the women (n=16) described playing a passive role in decision making. Choice was determined by medical factors or not offered by their physicians. Intense emotional distress affected some women's ability to compare options. The women who did engage in a rational decision-making process (n=9) based their choices on concerns about body image and fear of recurrence.

Conclusions: When presented with a choice, and when able to objectively weigh treatment options, low-income women base their treatment decisions on the same issues as those of higher income. Whether differences in income strata alter the doctor-patient power dynamic in favor of physician control over decision making, or whether low-income women are less prepared to engage in a rational deliberative process warrants further study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Socioeconomic Factors