Understanding the breast cancer experience of women: a qualitative study of African American, Asian American, Latina and Caucasian cancer survivors

Psychooncology. 2004 Jun;13(6):408-28. doi: 10.1002/pon.750.


Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in American women across most ethnic groups. Although the psychosocial impact of breast cancer is being studied, there is little information on women from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. We conducted a qualitative study with breast cancer survivors (BCS) of various ethnicities. A total of 102 BCS participated in focus group interviews (24 African Americans, 34 Asians, 26 Latinas and 18 Caucasians); 20 health professionals participated in key informant interviews. Important ethnic differences in type of treatment were noted, Asians and Latinas were more likely to receive mastectomies and African American BCS were least likely to receive adjuvant therapies, including radiation and chemotherapy. These BCS enjoyed a fairly good overall health-related quality of life (HRQOL) with some persistent concerns. The prevailing concerns among all women included overall health, moderate physical concerns, cancer recurrence or metastases, psychosocial concerns related to worry about children and burdening the family, and body image and sexual health concerns. Additional challenges included: lack of knowledge about breast cancer; medical care issues such as insurance, cost and amount of time spent with physician; cultural sensitivity of providers, language barriers, cultural factors related to beliefs about illness, gender role and family obligations (e.g. self-sacrifice). These BCS, particularly the women of color, voiced that their spiritual beliefs and practices are central to their coping. This study accomplishes two goals; it adds to the sparse literature concerning the psychosocial sequelae of breast cancer among women of color, and it increases our knowledge of specific cultural influences (e.g. dietary practices, coping) and socio-ecological factors on HRQOL. More importantly, the study addressed areas that have not been studied before, specifically, an in-depth study on BCS QOL comparing multiple ethnic groups in the US. The results of this investigation will provide preliminary information to survivors and health-care providers about the impact of culture and socio-ecological contexts on survivorship. Among women of all major ethnic groups, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death (American Cancer Society (ACS), 2002). In 2002, over 203,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer (ACS, 2002). Ethnic disparities exist for cancer stage, diagnosis, survival, morbidity and mortality. In general, ethnic minority women are diagnosed with more advanced disease and experience greater morbidity and mortality (Haynes & Smedley, 1999; Miller et al., 1996; Ries et al., 2000; Shinagawa, 2000). In general, increases in survival rates have prompted greater interest in the quality of life (QOL) of breast cancer survivors (BCS) over the past two decades. Additionally, the QOL of cancer survivors from diverse ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds is an emerging priority area for studies on survivorship research and clinical care (Haynes and Smedley, 1999; National Cancer Institute (NCI), 2002; President's Cancer Panel, 2000).

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Continental Ancestry Group* / psychology
  • Aged
  • Asian Americans* / psychology
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Breast Neoplasms / ethnology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Cognition*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group* / psychology
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Survivors / psychology*