Breast cancer diagnosis hits well-educated women hardest

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For any woman, a breast cancer diagnosis is a sucker punch to the gut, but a new Australian study finds that more well-educated women fare worse psychologically than their less-educated peers. For the cohort study, 1,684 women were recruited within 12 months of being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Each woman completed a standard, 22-item questionnaire widely used to measure well being. The results showed that the more diplomas a woman had, the more her sense of well being suffered. The authors posit that highly educated women are more likely to devour any and all information about their cancer and its treatment, leading to a heightened sense of anxiety over treatment decisions as well as a feeling of being out of control. “A more educated women comes into the doctor’s office, she takes notes, she’s been online, and she’s seeking two or three opinions,” says Dr. Susan Davis, one of the study investigators  and a professor of women’s health at Monash University Medical School in Victoria, Australia. “She’s done all of this work and she’s worried about the risks, she’s worried about the benefits, she’s worried about everything.” Up to 23 percent of all cancer survivors struggle with anxiety. Of course, the answer isn’t to bury one’s head in the sand. “Knowing about your cancer and understanding your cancer is important,” says Davis. “But women need to learn how to engage with this information without letting it overwhelm them.” One thing newly diagnosed patients can do, she says, is ask their physicians to recommend websites with the best  information because “there are a lot of crack pot sites out there.” As for doctors, she says, they need to be sensitive to the fact that more information is not necessarily better—”it’s a two-way street.”