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You May Learn More at the Beauty Shop Than You Think

April 25, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Some women may leave the beauty shop with more than a new hair style, thanks to a unique approach to bridge the gap between research and women. A University of Missouri-Columbia study that follows women through the stages of breast cancer treatment and recovery was recently extended, and this time researchers realized that one important demographic was being ignored. They are turning to beauty shop owners for help.

“In my research, I realized that I was not gathering sufficient information on the African-American woman's experience post-breast cancer,” said Jane Armer, professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. “This community is at risk of being underserved in terms of breast cancer screening and underrepresented in breast cancer research.”

Armer is conducting research on the occurrence of lymphedema in breast cancer survivors. Lymphedema is caused by a compromised lymphatic system. This can occur after breast cancer surgery because of possible damage to the lymphatic drainage system. Lymphedema affects nearly half of breast cancer survivors.

A community advisory group created the idea of reaching out to women through beauty shops. Armer then teamed with other health professionals and the beauty shop owners to disseminate information regarding the importance of early screening and detection, and the chance to participate in Armer's study. The materials, such as specially designed posters and fliers, will detail how and where women can receive screening for early detection and where they can turn for breast cancer support and information.

“I was fortunate to receive a mammogram that detected a lump that was in an early stage,” said Kay Smith, a breast cancer survivor who recently spoke at a luncheon to educate the beauty shop owners. “Thanks to my participation in the study, however, I became more educated about my disease, and it helped me through that time. I want more African-American women to realize that their participation and awareness of this subject is important.”

Armer wants to increase the diversity in her study by adding 30 to 40 minority women. While African-American women have a lower incidence of breast cancer, they do have a higher mortality rate. The five-year breast cancer survival rate for African-American women is 74 percent, compared to 88 percent for Caucasian women, according to the American Cancer Society.

"The reason for mortality discrepancies may be due to cost, lack of insurance or lack of information available to them," Armer said. "It is vitally important for us to reach out to this population so we can learn more about how to help them."

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Nursing Research, has followed more than 300 women diagnosed with breast cancer. The next phase of Armer's study will continue to follow the same women and 100 additional breast cancer survivors. This work has been ongoing since 2001.