Ethnic differences in risk perception among women at increased risk for breast cancer

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 1996;40(1):25-35. doi: 10.1007/BF01806000.


There has been increasing interest in the role of cultural and ethnic factors in breast cancer risk perceptions and screening practices. This study examined ethnic differences in breast cancer risk perception in 112 African American and 224 white women ages 35 and older who had at least one first-degree relative diagnosed with breast cancer. These samples were matched for education and age. Data on breast cancer risk factors, risk perceptions, breast cancer worries, and breast cancer screening practices were collected through structured telephone interviews. The results show that African American women were significantly less likely than white women to report heightened perceptions of personal risk after their relative was diagnosed with breast cancer (61% vs 82%; p < .001). Despite this, African American women had significantly greater concerns about their personal risk of breast cancer and worries about their affected relative. African American women also scored significantly higher than white women on a measure of avoidance of breast cancer-related thoughts and feelings. These psychological variables were associated independently with breast cancer risk perception in multivariate models, taking precedence over demographic and risk factor predictors. Observed ethnic differences in breast cancer risk perceptions and psychological distress may be attributable to the influence of cultural factors particular to people of African descent, such as the importance of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, and time orientation. An Africentric perspective is used to interpret these findings and to provide suggestions for delivering effective breast cancer risk counseling to African American women.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Black or African American
  • Breast Neoplasms / ethnology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Cultural Diversity*
  • Ethnicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Perception*
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking
  • White People