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April, 2017 – Breast cancer is very common in Sub-Sahara Africa, but many misconceptions about it make early detections and treatment difficult. This study looks at what misconceptions exist and what barriers need to be addressed.

Breast Cancer Knowledge, Behaviors, and Preferences in Malawi: Implications for Early Detection Interventions From a Discrete Choice Experiment

Racquel E. Kohler, Satish Gopal, Clara N. Lee, Bryan J. Weiner, Bryce B. Reeve, and Stephanie B. Wheeler

Journal of Global Oncology

See the paper in the Journal of Global Oncology



Breast cancer is the most common female cancer in Africa and leading cause of death resulting from cancer; however, many countries lack early detection services. In Malawi, women are frequently diagnosed with large tumors after long symptomatic periods. Little is known about local cancer knowledge.

We administered a cross-sectional survey with a discrete choice experiment to a random sample in urban and rural areas of Lilongwe district. Bivariable and multivariable analyses determined factors associated with knowledge. Preference utilities for early detection interventions were estimated using a hierarchical Bayesian model in Sawtooth software.

Of 213 women recruited, fewer than half were aware of breast cancer. In multivariable analysis, electricity at home and knowing someone with cancer increased the odds of awareness. Women were more knowledgeable about symptoms than treatment or risk factors; more than 60% erroneously believed local misconceptions. Seventeen percent were aware of breast self-examination, and 20% were aware of clinical breast examination (CBE); few reported either behavior. Common barriers included not knowing where to access CBE and transportation difficulties. Discrete choice experiment results indicated the detection strategy (breast health awareness, CBE, or both) was the most important attribute of an intervention, followed by the encounter setting and travel time.

Addressing misconceptions in health messages and engaging survivors to promote early detection may help improve breast cancer knowledge in Malawi. Program designs accounting for women’s preferences should provide breast health education and CBEs in convenient settings to address transportation barriers, particularly for women with low socioeconomic position.