How do women at increased risk of breast cancer make sense of their risk? An interpretative phenomenological analysis

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Offering breast cancer risk prediction for all women of screening age is being considered globally. For women who have received a clinically-derived estimate, risk appraisals are often inaccurate. This study aimed to gain an in-depth understanding of women’s lived experiences of receiving an increased breast cancer risk.
One-to-one semi-structured telephone interviews.
Eight women informed that they were at a 10-year above-average (moderate) or high risk in a breast cancer risk study (BC-Predict) were interviewed about their views on breast cancer, personal breast cancer risk and risk prevention. Interviews lasted between 40 and 70 minutes. Data were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.
Four themes were generated: (i) encounters with breast cancer and perceived personal significance, where the nature of women’s lived experiences of others with breast cancer impacted their views on the significance of the disease, (ii) ‘It’s random really’: difficulty in seeking causal attributions, where women encountered contradictions and confusion in attributing causes to breast cancer, (iii) believing versus identifying with a clinically-derived breast cancer risk, where personal risk appraisals and expectations influenced women’s ability to internalise their clinically-derived risk and pursue preventative action and (iv) perceived utility of breast cancer risk notification, where women reflected on the usefulness of knowing their risk.
Providing (numerical) risk estimates appears to have little impact on stable yet internally contradictory beliefs about breast cancer risk. Given this, discussions with healthcare professionals are needed to help women form more accurate appraisals and make informed decisions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 16 Jun 2023


  • breast cancer
  • risk appraisals
  • risk communication
  • high risk
  • interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • qualitative


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