A greater understanding of the nature and drivers of poor breast cancer (BC) awareness in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will inform much needed awareness programmes. We aimed to assess the level and nature of BC awareness in the multi-country African Breast Cancer-Disparities in Outcome (ABC-DO) cohort of women newly diagnosed with BC during 2014-2017. Awareness indicators were assessed during a baseline interview at/near diagnosis. Logistic/ordinal regression was used to estimate odds ratios (OR) for indicators of BC awareness in relation to woman-level characteristics for individual settings and then meta-analyzed. In the 1,451 women included, almost all Namibian non-black women (n = 104) knew of BC and its curability, while in Namibian black and Zambian women, one in 7 (~ 15%) had not previously heard of BC and 25-40% did not know it was curable. In Uganda and Nigeria awareness was lowest: one in four women had no BC awareness, and 2 in 3 had no knowledge of its cure potential. Low educational level, unskilled employment, low socioeconomic position, rural residence, older age, being unmarried, and in some settings HIV-positivity, were associated with lower BC awareness-e.g., having unskilled employment was associated with not having heard of BC (summary OR 3.37; 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.17-5.23), believing that it is incurable (2.43; 1.81-3.26), and not recognizing a breast lump symptom (1.85; 1.41-2.43) but with between-setting variation (I2 > 68% for all). The findings provide evidence of the level and difference in BC awareness and beliefs across different settings, highlighting the urgent need for context-specific education programmes in the SSA region.
Keywords: Awareness; Beliefs; Breast cancer; Sub-Saharan Africa; Symptoms.