An Examination of Canadian Family Physicians’ Knowledge and Practice Patterns Regarding Breast Cancer Prevention

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Tighe, Mary-Kathryn
Epidemiology , Breast Cancer Prevention
Family physician (FP) knowledge regarding breast cancer risk assessment and prevention strategies such as chemoprevention are important in ensuring that women at high risk for breast cancer are identified and receive proper preventive care. There are many factors which can moderately increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, such as short-term hormone replacement therapy use and being nulliparous over the age of 30 years. Some factors increase a woman’s risk to such an extent that she is deemed “high risk” for breast cancer development, including having a family history of breast cancer or having a personal history of atypical benign breast disease. We conducted a cross-sectional survey of a stratified random sample of 2500 family physicians selected from across Canada to examine breast cancer risk assessment knowledge and practices, chemoprevention knowledge and prescribing practices, attitudes towards breast cancer chemoprevention, and barriers towards its utilization in Canadian FPs. We found that while the majority of physicians identified a woman with a family history of breast cancer (97%) as being high risk, a large proportion of physicians (40%) underestimated the risk associated with having a personal history of atypical benign breast disease. Physicians also tended to overestimate the risk associated with hormone replacement therapy use (70%) and the risk associated with nulliparity over the age of 30 years (50%). We also found that less than 15% of our sample had knowledge about chemoprevention and less than 7% had ever prescribed breast cancer chemoprevention (i.e. tamoxoifen or raloxifene) for primary prevention. Possible predictors of both knowledge of risk assessment and chemoprevention and prescription of chemoprevention were examined. Using multiple logistic regression, we found that several variables significantly predicted physician knowledge of these risk factors and prescription practices including patient load, medical experience and sex. The results of this study indicate that family physicians may need to become more aware about breast cancer prevention methods and risk factors for breast cancer, and in particular those that place a woman at high risk for breast cancer development.
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