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University of Missouri Researcher: Breast Cancer Messages Need to Be Targeted Toward African-American Women

University of Missouri Researcher: Breast Cancer Messages Need to Be Targeted Toward African-American Women


African-American women are more likely than Caucasian women to be diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages of the disease and are more likely to die from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. Now, a University of Missouri-Columbia professor is researching how knowledge of breast cancer, gained through media use, can affect women’s health behaviors, such as performing breast self-exams or getting regular mammograms.

“From a disease prevention perspective, there is a great need for accurate information to be effectively communicated to women about breast cancer and breast cancer screening,” said Cynthia Frisby, associate advertising professor in the MU School of Journalism.

Frisby led a team of researchers in conducting a telephone survey of 240 Caucasian women and 206 African-American women to investigate differences in knowledge levels between the groups, as well as how much media use influences the level of breast cancer knowledge and health behaviors of the women in each group. Frisby also used education levels to further divide the groups into those that were highly educated and those that only had lower levels of education.

Breast cancer knowledge and health behaviors were significantly related only for highly educated Caucasian women. For Caucasian women with low levels of education and African-American women, more knowledge did not have an affect on health behaviors.

Higher media use led to more knowledge of breast cancer only for highly educated African-American women, Frisby found. However, increased media use did not translate into more highly educated African-American women getting breast cancer screenings. In addition, media use and breast cancer knowledge were not significant predictors of behaviors of African-American women, which Frisby said could be an indication that mass media messages about breast cancer may be too focused on Caucasian women.

“The findings suggest that attention to the media can increase awareness and knowledge about breast cancer, but this same media use does not seem to be affecting low-educated African American women, a group that certainly needs to be educated on this topic,” Frisby said.

Frisby’s study was funded through the MU Health Communication Research Center by a federal earmark from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention following a request by Sen. Jim Talent.

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