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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Breast cancer knowledge, attitudes, and screening behaviors among African American women: the Black cosmetologists promoting health program

Georgia R Sadler*, Celine M Ko, Jennifer A Cohn, Monique White, Rai-nesha Weldon and Phillis Wu

Author Affiliations

Moores UCSD Cancer Center, University of California, San Diego, 3855 Health Sciences Drive #0850, La Jolla, CA, 90293-0850, USA

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:57  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-57

Published: 17 April 2007



African American women have higher rates of breast cancer mortality than their white counterparts. Studies have suggested that this is partly caused by discovery of cancer at a later stage, highlighting the importance of encouraging early detection of breast cancer in this population. To guide the creation of a breast cancer education intervention and help focus other health educators' and clinicians' health promotion efforts, this study explored whether a cohort of African American women living in San Diego would demonstrate the possession of adequate baseline knowledge about breast cancer screening and adherence to widely recommended screening guidelines.


African American women (N = 1,055) from San Diego, California participated in a beauty salon-based survey about breast cancer knowledge, attitudes, and screening practices. Women's ages ranged from 20 to 94 years, with average age of 42.20 (SD = 13.53) years. Thirty-four percent reported completing college and/or some graduate school training, and 52% reported having some college or post high school formal training. Seventy-five percent of the sample reported working outside their home. Participating cosmetologists and their salons were recruited to the study through word-of-mouth referral by highly respected African American community leaders.


Salon clients reported low rates of adherence to recommended breast cancer screening guidelines. Of the 1,055 participants, 31% reporting performing breast self-exam every month. Of those participants 40 and older, 57% reported having had a clinical breast exam and 43% reported having had a mammogram in the past year. Knowledge of breast cancer was associated with adherence to screening guidelines. While women recognized the serious health threat that breast cancer poses and that early detection of breast cancer is important, only 30% of women reported feeling well informed about the disease. Many participants demonstrated a lack of basic knowledge about breast cancer. The Health Belief Model postulates that access to such information is an essential element in the progression toward engaging in screening behaviors.


Data from this study reflect a continuing need for increased breast cancer education for African American women. In light of the considerable mainstream information available related to breast cancer, these data reinforce the need for more breast cancer education programs that are clearly intended to attract the attention of African American women.