Asia-Pacific Journal of Oncology Nursing

: 2017  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 104--111

Breast cancer screening practices and related health beliefs among Taiwanese nurses

Tsu-Yin Wu1, Shu-Ling Chen2,  
1 School of Nursing, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI, USA
2 Department of Nursing, Hung Kuang University, Taichung, Taiwan, Republic of China

Correspondence Address:
Shu-Ling Chen
Department of Nursing, Hung Kuang University, Taichung, Taiwan
Republic of China


Objective: Breast cancer is one of most common cancer types among women in Taiwan. Nurses are in an ideal position to promote breast cancer screening and educate individuals about breast health-related issues. This exploratory study aims to provide preliminary information on Taiwanese nurses' beliefs about breast cancer, breast cancer-related knowledge, and their cancer screening practices. Methods: In this cross-sectional study, a total of 96 nurses completed self-report questionnaires. Results: Participants were knowledgeable about the different breast cancer screening modalities and the risk factors for breast cancer, but various misconceptions about breast cancer were still observed. Nevertheless, more than 50% of participants reported that they never had clinical breast examinations, ultrasound, and/or mammography screening in the past. Conclusions: Our study sample demonstrated greater knowledge on modalities of breast cancer screening modalities and the risk factors for breast cancers but lower screening practices. Future studies that examine the impact of demographics and the reinforcing and inhibiting factors related to nurses' screening uptake are warranted.

How to cite this article:
Wu TY, Chen SL. Breast cancer screening practices and related health beliefs among Taiwanese nurses.Asia Pac J Oncol Nurs 2017;4:104-111

How to cite this URL:
Wu TY, Chen SL. Breast cancer screening practices and related health beliefs among Taiwanese nurses. Asia Pac J Oncol Nurs [serial online] 2017 [cited 2020 Dec 4 ];4:104-111
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Full Text


Breast cancer continues to be the most common type of cancer and, in turn, the leading cause of cancer-related death among women worldwide. According to the latest Taiwanese cancer registry report, 10,056 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 1852 died of this disease.[1] Despite the relatively low incidence rate of 64 per 100,000, the number of newly diagnosed breast cancer cases increases 2%–3% every year.[1] Not surprisingly, breast cancer was the leading cancer-related cause of death among Taiwanese women in 2011.[2]

The current breast cancer screening guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Taiwan recommends that women at average risk need to perform biannual mammogram starting between the ages of 45 and 69 years.[1] Despite the documented benefits of timely mammograms, Taiwanese women still do not receive the recommended number of breast cancer screenings. Official statistics released revealed that only 12% of women aged 45–69 years received a mammogram during the past 2 years, and only 30% of breast cancer patients were diagnosed at the early Stages 0 and I.[3] This finding is particularly troubling as disease stage at diagnosis is a key prognostic factor in survival rates. Indeed, 90% of patients diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer typically survive at least 5 years and represents a significant improvement over the 20% survival rate associated with Stage IV diagnosis.[2]

In November 2009, the Health Promotion Administration in Taiwan sought to improve mammography-screening rates by providing a mammogram test every 2 years for women aged 45–69 years. By 2013, a total of 694,000 mammograms were provided to females of this age group, representing a coverage rate of 36% over the past 2 years.[4] Despite this initiative, along with the universal health insurance provided to all Taiwanese citizens, a recent study revealed that 50% of Taiwanese women reported never receiving any of the other recommended screening procedures (e.g., mammograms and ultrasound) during the past 5 years.[5]

Barriers to breast cancer screening include lack of knowledge, myths, and psychosocial and system barriers such as proximity of screening location and transportation issues.[6] In addition, another study reported the main reasons related to psychological barrier among women in Taiwan were not understanding the inspection process and feeling the shame. psychological barriers to timely breast cancer screening.[7] Wu et al.'s [5] study also revealed other barriers unique to Taiwanese women (compared to Western population) which include (1) an assumption that they do not need to receive the screening because they have no family history; (2) feeling better (or no other symptoms); and (3) belief that they are too young and/or too old. In addition, the participants reported a general lack of awareness on the importance of early detection. Taken together, these findings underscored the need for a comprehensive education campaign that promotes breast health awareness by debunking some of the more common misconceptions about breast cancer. Extant studies have shown that appropriate training among health-care professionals can increase early breast cancer diagnosis by improving breast cancer awareness and practice for both patients and health-care professionals.[8],[9],[10] However, despite extensive organizational and professional interests in this area, misconceptions about breast cancer and breast cancer screening still exist among health-care professionals.[11]

Nurses are the population of interest in this study as they are being on the frontline of patient care and assume an important role in educating and motivating patients in cancer screening. In addition, nurses can also educate women about breast cancer risk factors (e.g., healthy lifestyles and reproductive health) and available breast cancer screening services and practices.

While health statistics from Taiwan health authorities have reported increasing incidence rate of breast cancer among Taiwanese women, there is still a paucity of data on Taiwanese nurses' knowledge toward breast cancer and their screening practices. Additional research is needed to identify nurses' knowledge and attitudes on breast cancer as it may influence their own practice of early breast cancer detection methods.


An exploratory descriptive design was used to assess Taiwanese nurses' knowledge on breast cancer and their breast cancer screening practice by analyzing the barriers and facilitators related to their practice of breast cancer screening. Participants (n = 96) were recruited from a nursing continuing education (CE) workshop with topics on women's health held at a university in Southern Taiwan and asked to complete self-report questionnaires that assessed breast cancer screening attitudes and behaviors before the CE workshop. The study protocol was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board at Eastern Michigan University. Participation was voluntary, and all collected information was confidential. Each participant signed informed consent form and received a brief description of the study. The study instrument was divided into three parts: (a) demographics (10 items); (b) breast cancer screening practices (12 items); and (c) predisposing, reinforcing, and inhibiting factors (34 items); these were social cognitive factors that can be modified to affect changes in screening behaviors and identified as outcome expectancies (i.e., perceived benefits and barriers), perceived self-efficacy, and knowledge. The current study used the Precede–Proceed model [12] to organize study variables.

Measurement strategies for social cognitive factors (i.e., perceived benefits, perceived barriers, and perceived self-efficacy) and knowledge-related measures (i.e., misconception/knowledge about breast cancer risks and knowledge about recommendations for frequency of mammography screening) and their descriptive statistics of subscale scores are shown in [Table 1]. The perceived benefits and perceived subscales were tested in a previous study, and good internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha = 0.86–0.91) and construct and predictive validity were demonstrated.[13],[14]{Table 1}

Data were analyzed with SPSS version 21.0 for Windows (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA) software. Descriptive statistics including percentages, means, and standard deviations were calculated and are reported in this paper. Missing data were treated as pairwise deletion whereas available case analysis was performed. t-tests were performed to examine the differences of social cognitive factors (i.e., perceived benefits and barriers), perceived self-efficacy, and knowledge. The post hoc power analysis was performed that with large effect size and power of 0.8, 25 cases are needed in each group.[15] In the current study, we have at least 25 participants in each of the two groups for t-tests.


Participant demographics

Demographic data are presented in [Table 2]. A total of 104 attended the CE workshop, and 96 women completed a series of self-report questionnaires (yielding the 92% response rate). The age range for the women was 21–65 years (mean = 37; standard deviation = 11.20); the majority (61%) of participants were married. More than 80% of participants worked as nurses (88.3%) and 5.2% were teachers. More than 90% of participants reported having college or higher education, and the majority of respondents (41.9%) had a combined household income of $15,000–$30,000 with 35.5% reporting their combined household income as Practice of breast cancer screening practice and intention

The vast majority of respondents (63%) reported having never received any type of breast cancer screening [Table 1]. This finding persisted even after controlling for screening modalities (mammogram vs. ultrasound) and respondent age (with age-specific nature of screening recommendations) with 62% and 57% of the respondents having never received a prior mammogram or ultrasound, respectively. Less than 10% of the nurses reported being screened within the past 2 years, and 61% of the respondents have never received a clinical breast examination (a screening modality recommended for women age 20 and older). Finally, 43% of the participants in the 45 years and older age group indicated “not planning to” or “not sure” in response to inquiries about their intent to receive a mammogram next year.

Predisposing factors

[Table 3] shows the levels of knowledge of participants had toward breast cancer risks, recommended screening intervals. Several misconceptions regarding the cause of breast cancer were observed among this sample and included beliefs that immigration was not a significant factor for developing breast cancer (56.3%) and that breast cancer was caused by large breast size (30.2%). Interestingly, more than half of the participants (52.7%) believed that if they are eating healthy and exercise regularly, they do not need regular breast cancer screening.{Table 3}

While the prevailing majority (96.8%) heard of mammograms, slightly fewer women (95.7%) were aware of breast self-examination and even fewer women (84.8%) knew that clinical breast examinations were a form of breast cancer screening. Moreover, more than half of the respondents did not know the recommended age to start mammography screening (59.6%) and even smaller percentage of participants (5.9%) know the starting age for clinical breast examinations. In the current sample, the majority of nurses perceived their risk of developing breast cancer as low (52.2%) or no risk (2.2%); about one-third of nurses perceived their risk as medium [Table 4].{Table 4}

Reinforcing factors

Participants were more likely to practice breast cancer screening when encouraged by their husbands (51.4%), followed by recommendations from their children (48.4%) and doctors or nurses (46.8%). Other facilitating factors to regular breast cancer screening included reminders for their next mammogram appointment (40.9%); newsletter with information about breast cancer (40.4%); and encouragement by their relatives and friends (38.0%).

In terms of perceived positive outcomes toward breastcancer screening, more than 90% of participants recognized that timely screening helps find breast lumps early, detect small breast lumps, and reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer [Table 3]. However, respondents fared worse when asked if mammograms can detect breast cancer that could not be detected by themselves [50.1%, [Table 5].{Table 5}

For inhibiting factors to screening, the most commonly cited barrier to regular breast cancer screening was the reticence to being examined by strangers and/or male clinicians as well as the belief that the mammogram procedure would be painful. Other barriers included discomfort with taking off clothes in front of health professionals during the examination and the fear that the mammogram procedure will reveal cancer. A large number of participants (40.0%) also worried about unnecessary exposure to radiation during the mammogram. The mean and standard deviation on the barriers to mammography screening are reported in [Table 5].

Comparison of reinforcing and inhabiting factors by age and education

Next, t-tests were performed to examine whether demographic factors (e.g., age and education) contributed to differences in participants' knowledge, perceived benefits, barriers, and risk perceptions toward breast cancer screening. A significant difference by age was observed in perceived benefits whereas participants who are 41 years and older reported higher levels of perceived benefits than their counterparts [Table 6]. In terms of the comparison by education level, results showed that significant differences were observed between nurse participants with have bachelor degrees or higher whereas those with higher levels of education reported have higher levels of perceived benefits and greater knowledge related to breast cancer [Table 7].{Table 6}{Table 7}


The goal of this exploratory study was to provide preliminary information about Taiwanese nurses' beliefs about breast cancer, breast cancer-related knowledge, and their cancer screening practices; the results showed that although nurse participants were knowledgeable about the different breast cancer screening modalities and risk factors for breast cancer, various misconceptions about breast cancer still existed, and the screening practices for breast cancer (i.e., clinical breast examinations, ultrasound, and/or mammography screening) were low. Information from the current study can be used to further examine the determinants for adherence in screening and tailored to designing and implementing intervention and prevention strategies.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer for women in Taiwan. Despite its high prevalence, only 30% of breast cancer patients are diagnosed at Stage I which, in turn, leads to worse prognosis. Early detection remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control,[16] and several policies have been implemented in Taiwan to promote the early detection and treatment of breast cancer (e.g., biennial breast mammograms for women aged 50–60 years and/or individuals with a family history of breast cancer). However, the statistics from the Health Promotion Administration in Taiwan still demonstrate a troubling trend of Taiwanese women underutilizing mammogram screening. In the current study, more than 50% of nurse participants never had breast cancer screening (either mammography, ultrasound, or clinical breast examinations).

For breast cancer, nurses are in prime position to incorporate both primary prevention (which includes educating women on breast cancer risk factors and influencing behavior change) and secondary prevention efforts (which includes screening for and early detection of the disease) into their current practice. To advance cancer control through early detection, empowering nurses with information about early detection methods and its benefits may result in increased motivation to recommend and perform breast cancer screening (in addition to other types of screening behaviors) for their patients.

Our sample generally demonstrated greater knowledge on modalities of breast cancer screening modalities and the risk factors for breast cancers (e.g., obesity, ovarian cancer, and immigration) when compared with respondents from the previous studies.[9],[17],[18] However, misconceptions about breast cancer were still observed. For example, more than 30% of the participants believed that breast size is associated with breast cancer while 11% believed that breast cancer may develop in response to hitting, bumping, or fondling of the breast and/or moral misconduct. In terms of breast cancer screening modalities, awareness of mammography and clinical breast examinations' screening methods was high, however, knowledge on the recommended screening frequency was lacking with more than 50% of nurse participants endorsing the belief that if one has a healthy diet and exercises on a regularly basis, mammography screening can be performed less frequently than recommended intervals.

The Taiwanese nurse participants also reported much lower compliance for mammography screening than nurses from other similar studies which include nurses in Lagos Nigeria (7.8%), Saudi Arabia (42.7%), and Singapore (35%).[9],[17],[18] This finding is particularly surprising in light of contrasting findings on mammography screening practices among healthy Taiwanese women.[5] This disparity was also observed in other breast cancer screening modalities (e.g. breast self-examinations and clinical breast examinations) among the current study respondents.

Implication for practice

Lack of access issue is unlikely reasons for the low rate of breast cancer screenings in light of the universal health insurance and the increased focus on breast cancer screening by the Taiwanese Government. Thus, it may be more beneficial to focus on awareness of breast health and attitudes toward breast cancer screening among Taiwanese women and their health-care providers. In particular, working to address and disseminate the most frequently identified barriers to breast cancer screening in the current study (e.g., insufficient knowledge of and misconceptions about breast cancer and screening guidelines) may be beneficial. These findings can be disseminated in a number of ways: education programs at regional and/or national conferences, online modules, and community-based curriculum with CE credits that provide incentives for participation.

Despite the existence of universal health insurance, Taiwanese individuals do not have and/or see primary care providers often. Therefore, provider-oriented interventions in Western countries (e.g., recall and reminder systems or assessment and feedback systems) will need to be modified to effectively promote screening behavior in Taiwan. For example, local public health offices can coordinate efforts to mail letters to women who are due for breast cancer screening and remind them to schedule their next screening appointment. Moreover, participants in our study identified their husbands and health-care providers as the leading facilitators in timely breast cancer screening services. Taken together, these findings suggest that facilitating support networks and providing women with reminders and letter notifications may be viable ways to increase screening for this group.

A systematic review [6] showed that barriers contributed to low mammography screening among immigrant and minority women, and these reported barriers are related cultural beliefs and norms, privacy/modesty, and languages. Similarly, two of top five barriers in the current study were related to cultural beliefs and modesty issues (i.e., not being comfortable taking clothes off or being examined by a male or an unfamiliar health professional) as well as the preemptive belief that associates screening with signs and/or symptoms of pain. These types of beliefs and barriers may be addressed through an educational curriculum that increases women's knowledge of breast cancer, its signs and symptoms, the importance of early detection, and mammogram procedure (to allay fears of pain) in a culturally and personally relevant manner. The barrier of modesty and embarrassment can be addressed by providing women with female mammogram technicians and/or making this option widely known to encourage future screenings.


Several limitations should be noted for the current study. First, the study used a small convenience sample, and participants were recruited from a CE workshop. Thus, generalizability of the results is limited. Future studies that include larger and more diverse sample are warranted to investigate correlates and determinants of breast cancer screening among Taiwanese women. Second, there may have been measurement errors as a result of using self-report as over reporting socially desirable behaviors (e.g., breast cancer screening behavior) is a well-documented phenomenon.


Despite these limitations, this is the first study that examined knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of nurses in Taiwan related to breast cancer and screening practices. Nurses have a vital role in engendering increased breast health awareness (including screening behaviors) among their patients. Consequently, understanding how nurses perceive breast cancer and related issues (e.g., breast cancer screening) in Taiwan is important to promote breast cancer screening among health professions and for general public. Future studies can further examine the impact of demographics and the reinforcing and inhibiting factors which may impact nurses' awareness of breast cancer and their screening uptake. While most of the nurses obtained their information and knowledge from nursing school and workplace, our findings suggest that it is imperative to keep nurses up-to-date on important breast health issues. This will encourage nurses to take an active role in promoting breast cancer screening among their patients, families, and friends.


The authors greatly appreciate the contributions of all participants who took part in the study. Also the author wishes to express her gratitude to Chiuman Lin and Fan-Ji Yeh who was abundantly helpful and offered invaluable assistance during project period.

Financial support and sponsorship

The study was supported by Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Eastern Michigan University sabbatical award to Tsu-Yin Wu.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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