Some women with breast cancer feel discriminated against

May 07, 2001

Although most women report positive benefits from talking to family and friends about their breast cancer, some do experience negative repercussions and others report both workplace and insurance discrimination, according to a new study.

"Most women who survive breast cancer do not experience difficulties related to disclosure about cancer, but a significant minority report negative effects on relationships with friends, family, work and insurance," says Donna E. Stewart, M.D., and associates at the University of Toronto.

The Canadian study surveyed 378 women who had been cancer-free for at least two years, revealing that more than two-thirds had disclosed their disease to friends, children, siblings or partners and about half told work colleagues, bosses or supervisors. The majority of those women felt that their disclosure brought them more support, brought them closer to the people they told or they received more advice. However, 16.6 percent felt their disclosure made people more distant or caused family or job-related problems, Stewart and colleagues say.

This study was conducted in Canada, which has universal health care, so access to health insurance was not an issue. But the researchers found that 17.9 percent of participants had difficulty getting life insurance, either because they were refused or were offered it only with higher premiums.

The study likely underestimates discrimination by insurers because many women are unaware of insurance status, reflected by the fact that half of the respondents did not answer the questions on insurance. Some women may also have assumed that they would no longer qualify for life insurance and therefore did not even apply, Stewart notes.

"In addition to the women who had negative experiences following disclosure, it is possible that women who chose not to tell certain people may accurately have predicted the potentially negative reactions and (results) of disclosure on relationships, job and insurance," there searchers say. The study was funded in part by the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative.
Psycho-Oncology is a bimonthly international journal devoted to the psychological, social and behavioral dimensions of cancer. Published by John Wiley, it is the official journal of the American, British and International Psycho-Oncology Societies. Contact Jimmie Holland, MD, Co-Editor, at 212-739-7051 for information. For copies of the article, contact the Center for the Advancement of Health at 202-387-2829 or e-mail

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