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Open Access Research article

Why do Asian-American women have lower rates of breast conserving surgery: results of a survey regarding physician perceptions

Jane T Pham1, Laura J Allen1 and Scarlett L Gomez12*

Author Affiliations

1 Northern California Cancer Center, Fremont, California (JTP, LJA, SLG), USA

2 Division of Epidemiology, Department of Health Research and Policy, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California (SLG), USA

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BMC Public Health 2009, 9:246  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-246

Published: 17 July 2009



US Asian women with early-stage breast cancer are more likely to receive a modified radical mastectomy (MRM) than White women, contrary to clinical recommendations regarding breast conserving treatment (BCT).


We surveyed physicians regarding treatment decision-making for early-stage breast cancer, particularly as it applies to Asian patients. Physicians were identified through the population-based Greater Bay Area Cancer Registry. Eighty (of 147) physicians completed a questionnaire on sociodemographics, professional training, clinical practices, and perspectives on the treatment decision-making processes.


The most important factors identified by physicians in the BCT/MRM decision were clinical in nature, including presence of multifocal disease (86% identified this as being an important factor for selecting MRM), tumor size (71% for MRM, 78% for BCT), cosmetic result (74% for BCT), and breast size (50% for MRM, 55% for BCT). The most important reasons cited for the Asian treatment patterns were patient attitudes toward not needing to preserve the breast (53%), smaller breast sizes (25%), and fear and cultural beliefs (12%).


These survey results suggest that physicians perceive major roles of both clinical and cultural factors in the BCT/MRM decision, but cultural factors may be more relevant in explaining surgical treatment patterns among Asians.