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The Meaning of Breast Cancer Risk for African American Women


  • Janice Phillips PhD, FAAN, RN,

    1.  Alpha Lambda, Former Manager—Nursing Research, Research Associate, Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics and Global Health, University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, IL
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  • Marlene Z. Cohen PhD, RN, FAAN

    1.  Gamma Pi at Large, Professor and Kenneth E. Morehead Endowed Chair in Nursing, Associate Dean for Research, University of Nebraska Medical Center, College of Nursing, Omaha, NE
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Dr. Janice Phillips,University of Chicago Medical Center, 5841 South Maryland M/C 1083, Chicago, IL 60637. E-mail:


Purpose: To describe African American women's experience of being at high risk for breast cancer.

Design: A hermeneutic phenomenological approach was used to guide in-depth interviews and analysis. Methods to ensure trustworthiness and rigor were included.

Methods: Open interviews were conducted with 20 African American women who were at high risk for breast cancer (family history, personal history, genetic mutation). They were recruited from a cancer risk clinic and community-based settings. Data were transcribed verbatim, and themes were labeled among and between all interviews.

Findings: Five themes were identified: (a) life-changing experience; (b) relationships: fears, support, and concerns; (c) the healthcare experience; (d) raising awareness; and (e) strong faith.

Conclusions: Young women at high risk for breast cancer have unique emotional and support needs that are shaped by stage in life, relationships with significant others, their faith, and interactions with the healthcare delivery system.

Clinical Relevance: Breast cancer does occur in young women. This highlights the need for timely and sensitive approaches to care when young women present with breast health concerns or abnormal breast findings.