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Abstract

Women are bombarded with information about the purported causes and the prevention of breast cancer. This survey sought to determine to what women survivors of breast cancer attributed the cause and lack of recurrence of their breast cancer, and whether these views were associated with specific health behaviors.

Methods: Women who had survived breast cancer without recurrence for at least 2 years were surveyed by mail about their views on the cause and lack of recurrence of their breast cancer. They were also asked to estimate their personal risk of cancer recurrence, report on their health behaviors, describe what advice they would give to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, and what they would change if they had to relive their breast cancer experience.

Results: 378 (75.6%) women breast cancer survivors responded who had been recurrence free for a mean of 8.6±11.8 years. Women (n=322) who responded to the question about the cause of breast cancer attributed it to stress (42.2%), genetics (26.7%), environment (25.5%), hormones (23.9%), don't know (16.5%), diet (15.5%), and breast trauma (2.8%). Women (n=330) who responded to the question about what prevented cancer recurrence attributed it to positive attitude (60.0%), diet (50.0%), healthy lifestyle (40.3%), exercise (39.4%), stress reduction (27.9%), prayer (26.4%), complementary therapies (11.2%), don't know (5.1 %), luck (3.9%), and tamoxifen (3.9%). Most women felt their recurrence risk was average (44.8%), or below average (35.8%). Some attributions of breast cancer cause or lack of recurrence were associated with specific health behaviors. The majority of women survivors would advise other women with breast cancer to be positive, and if they had to relive their cancer experience they would take more control of their treatment.

Discussion: Despite lack of evidence substantiating stress as a cause of breast cancer, many breast cancer survivors believed stress caused their cancer. An even higher percentage of survivors believed their positive attitude had prevented breast cancer recurrence and they would advise other women with breast cancer accordingly. Attribution beliefs clearly affected survivors' health behaviors.

Conclusion: Healthcare providers should consider the personal beliefs of patients about cancer cause and recurrence, which may be at variance with scientific evidence. This may assist in framing the management of patients in personally meaningful ways, which may increase health behaviors, adherence, satisfaction and quality of life. Whether it will increase survival remains unknown. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.