Background: The mechanisms underlying a reported tendency for women who hold strong religious beliefs to seek medical help at more advanced stages of breast cancer are unknown. This study investigates further the effect of religious beliefs with other variables on breast cancer screening and the intended presentation of a self-discovered breast lump.
Methods: The study included 682 eastern North Carolina women aged 40 and over who were interviewed in their homes about religious and other beliefs about breast cancer, screening, and intended actions with a self-discovered breast lump.
Results: Principal components factor analysis results suggested that a majority of women believe that God works through doctors to cure breast cancer. We labeled this dimension "religious intervention with treatment." A minority believed that medical treatment was unnecessary because only God could cure breast cancer. We labeled this dimension "religious intervention in place of treatment." The first dimension correlated with self-reported mammography but not clinical breast examination or women's intention to delay presentation of a self-discovered breast lump. The second dimension, significantly more common in African American women who were less educated and older, correlated strongly with the intention to delay presentation of a self-discovered breast lump.
Conclusions: Belief in "religious intervention in place of treatment" may help to explain why African American women delay presentation of palpable breast lumps, contributing to advanced-stage cancer diagnosis. We suggest that clinicians and clergy work together within the context of religious beliefs to enhance early detection and survival from breast cancer.