Document Type: Original Article

Authors

1 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, College of Medicine, Taibah University, Al Madina Al Munawara, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

2 Department of Radiology, College of Medicine, Taibah University, Al Madina Al Munawara, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

3 Department of Anatomy, College of Medicine, Taibah University, Al Madina Al Munawara, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

4 Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, Taibah University, Al Madina Al Munawara, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Abstract

Background: Breast cancer, a critical health problem, is considered to be a progressive disease with a poor prognosis if detected late. Public education about the disease plays a pivotal role in early detection and subsequent improvements in prognosis. The present study assesses the knowledge and awareness about various aspects of breast cancer among female university students.Methods: The knowledge of various aspects of breast cancer including incidence, early warning signs, risk factors, screening, early detection measures and sources of information was evaluated among female students in different faculties of Taibah University, Al Madina Al Munawara, Saudi Arabia, from December 1 to 31, 2008. A self-structured validated questionnaire that contained 23 itemized questions about breast cancer was randomly distributed to the participants. Respondents’ levels of knowledge were determined and transferred to electronic spreadsheets for further analysis.Results: Of 301 students, 247 (82%) were available for final analysis with a mean age of 27 years (SD 12.1; age range: 18 to 39 years). Two hundred eleven (85.4%) respondents were single, 218 (88%) nulliparous and 213 (86%) had no family history of breast cancer. Their knowledge about the incidence of the disease was poor; only 34% replied correctly. A total of 148 (59.9%) respondents mentioned swelling in the skin/axilla while 123 (49.7%) suggested skin changes as early warning signs of breast cancer. None of the participants expressed knowledge about all established risk factors of the disease. One hundred fifty-nine (64.4%) did not know the proper way to perform a breast self-examination and 104 (42.2%) had never performed this test. Additionally, 128 (51.8%) knew that mammography was a screening tool for breast cancer. Sources of information about the disease were: television and radio (139, 56.2%), printed material in journals and newspapers (86, 34.8%) and family physicians (13, 15.2%).Conclusion: This study revealed that respondents showed deficient knowledge about key issues concerning breast cancer and its early detection measures. It also revealed that health workers were not the main source of information in the community, thereby posing a challenge for community health services to provide basic required information about breast cancer.