PURPOSE: Timely detection of breast cancer (BC) is important to reduce its related deaths. Hence, high awareness of its symptoms and risk factors is required. This study aimed to assess the awareness level of BC among females in Gaza.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: A cross-sectional study was performed during September and October 2017 in Gaza, Palestine. Stratified sampling was used to recruit patients from four hospitals and seven high schools. The validated Breast Cancer Awareness Measure (BCAM) was used to assess confidence and behavior in relation to breast changes, awareness of BC symptoms and risk factors, barriers to seek medical help, and knowledge of BC screening. Women (age ≥ 18 years) visiting or admitted to any of the four hospitals, and female adolescents (age 15 to 17 years) in any of the seven schools, were recruited for face-to-face interviews to complete the BCAM.
RESULTS: Of 3,055 women approached, 2,774 participants completed the BCAM questionnaire (response rate, 90.8%); 1,588 (57.2%) were adults, and 1,186 (42.8%) were adolescents. Of these, 1,781 (64.2%) rarely (or never) checked their breasts, and 909 (32.8%) were not confident to notice changes. In total, 1,675 (60.4%) were aware of the availability of BC screening programs. The overall mean ± standard deviation score for awareness of BC symptoms was 5.9 ± 2.9 of 11, and that of risk factors 7.5 ± 3.1 of 16. Feeling scared was the most reported barrier to seeking advice reported among women (n = 802; 50.2%), whereas feeling embarrassed was the most reported in adolescents (n = 745; 62.8%).
CONCLUSION: Awareness of BC symptoms, risk factors, and screening programs is suboptimal in Gaza. Educational interventions are necessary to increase public awareness of BC and to train local female breast surgeons to address barriers to early detection.