Social factors important in breast cancer screening decisions

November 08, 1999

Women who perceive that regular mammography screening is a common, acceptable practice among their peers are more likely than others to get mammograms regularly, new research shows. Scientists from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health also found that health care provider recommendations significantly influence women's breast cancer screening decisions.

"Public health interventions designed to promote early detection of breast cancer through regular screening increasingly rely on the provision of social support and the dissemination of information through social networks," said Jennifer Dacey Allen, MPH, DSc, the lead researcher. "This research provides valuable insight into the ways in which social factors influence women's screening behavior and has implications for the design of interventions."

The study examined the relationship between social network characteristics and breast cancer screening practices among 1,045 working women age 52 and older. The subjects were employed at 27 Massachusetts work sites participating in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Education Project, a four-year, randomized trial funded by the National Cancer Institute. The data were collected using a self-administered questionnaire. The results of the study appear in the current issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Although the study's primary purpose was to examine the influence of social networks, the results also suggest evidence that a health care provider's recommendation is the most powerful predictor of regular breast cancer screening.

"Health care providers clearly act as gatekeepers for breast cancer screening procedures and may influence women's perceptions about the social acceptability of mammography. Therefore, intervention efforts should include strategies to increase the number of provider referrals for screening," said Allen.

The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute.
Annals of Behavioral Medicine is the official peer-reviewed publication of The Society of Behavioral Medicine. For information about the journal, contact Arthur Stone, PhD, 516-632-8833.

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