Background: The perception of breast cancer risk held by women who have not had breast cancer, and who are at increased, but unexplained, familial risk of breast cancer is poorly described. This study aims to describe risk perception and how it is related to screening behaviour for these women.
Methods: Participants were recruited from a population-based sample (the Australian Breast Cancer Family Study - ABCFS). The ABCFS includes women diagnosed with breast cancer and their relatives. For this study, women without breast cancer with at least one first- or second-degree relative diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50 were eligible unless a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation had been identified in their family. Data collection consisted of an audio recorded, semi-structured interview on the topic of breast cancer risk and screening decision-making. Data was analysed thematically.
Results: A total of 24 interviews were conducted, and saturation of the main themes was achieved. Women were classified into one of five groups: don't worry about cancer risk, but do screening; concerned about cancer risk, so do something; concerned about cancer risk, so why don't I do anything?; cancer inevitable; cancer unlikely.
Conclusions: The language and framework women use to describe their risk of breast cancer must be the starting point in attempts to enhance women's understanding of risk and their prevention behaviour.
Keywords: Breast cancer; cancer; familial risk; qualitative research; risk perception; screening.