Cultural models of female breasts and breast cancer among Korean women


Although a great many qualitative descriptions of the experience of having breast cancer exist, they overwhelmingly represent experiences of women in Western cultures and are based on assumptions that stem from Western individualism. This study explores and describes cultural models shared by a group of non-Western women, South Koreans, in reference to female breasts and breast cancer. The hermeneutic phenomenology-grounded qualitative study was conducted with 40 Korean women, between 23 and 81 years of age, half of whom were breast cancer survivors. The analysis elicited two cultural models, both characterized in terms of physical relationships to others (as opposed to the woman’s individual or independent view of her body): a breast-feeding mother to a child and an attractive wife to a husband. Female breasts are interpreted as a medium that connects women to roles as mothers and wives. Breast cancer can lead women to detach from their previous relational and role-oriented identities. Cultural traditions, cultural concepts, and culture-related health beliefs in Korea are interwoven deeply in the women’s stories about breasts, as a gendered organ, and its disease. The findings suggest that understanding indigenous cultural models should precede any supportive breast cancer care for women from non-Western cultural backgrounds. 

Share and Cite:

Suh, E. (2013) Cultural models of female breasts and breast cancer among Korean women. Open Journal of Nursing, 3, 404-413. doi: 10.4236/ojn.2013.35055.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Strauss, C. (1992) Models and motives. In: D’Andrade, R. and Strauss, C., Eds., Human Motives and Cultural Models, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1-20. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139166515.002
[2] D’Andrade, R. (1992) Schemas and motivation. In: D’Andrade R. and Strauss, C., Eds., Human Motives and Cultural Models, Cambridge University Press, New York, 23-44. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139166515.003
[3] Strauss, C. and Quinn, N. (1997) A cognitive theory of cultural meaning. Cambridge University Press, New York.
[4] Ferlay, J., Shin, H.R., Bray, F., Forman, D., Mathers, C.D. and Parkin, D. (2010) GLOBOCAN 2008, Cancer incidence and mortality worldwide. IARC Cancer Base No. 10, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon.
[5] Arman, M. and Rehnsfeldt, A. (2002) Living with breast cancer—A challenge to expansive and creative forces. European Journal of Cancer Care, 11, 290-296. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2354.2002.00318.x
[6] Coward, D.D. and Kahn, D.L. (2005) Transcending breast cancer: Making meaning from diagnosis and treatment. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 23, 264-283. doi:10.1177/0898010105277649
[7] Elmir, R., Jackson, D., Beale, B. and Schmied, V. (2010) Against all odds: Australian women’s experiences of recovery from breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 19, 2531-2538. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2010.03196.x
[8] Manuel, J.C., Burwell, S.R., Crawford, S.L., Lawrence, R.H., Farmer, D.F., Hege, A., et al. (2007) Younger women’s perceptions of coping with breast cancer. Cancer Nursing, 30, 85-94. doi:10.1097/01.NCC.0000265001.72064.dd
[9] Rosedale, M. (2009) Survivor loneliness of women following breast cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 36, 175-183. doi:10.1188/09.ONF.175-183
[10] Sealy, P.A. (2012) Autoethnography: Reflective journaling and meditation to cope with life-threatening breast cancer. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 16, 38-41. doi:10.1188/12.CJON.38-41
[11] Shaha, M. and Bauer-Wu, S. (2009) Early adulthood uprooted: Transitoriness in young women with breast cancer. Cancer Nursing, 32, 246-255.
[12] Taylor, E.J. (2000) Transformation of tragedy among women surviving breast cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 27, 781-788.
[13] Drageset, S., Lindstrøm, T.C., Giske, T. and Underlid, K. (2011) Being in suspense: Women’s experiences awaiting breast cancer surgery. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 67, 1941-1951. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2011.05638.x
[14] Suh, E.E., Park, Y.H. and Kim, S. (2008) The patients’ experiences of the diagnosis and pre-treatment period of breast cancer. Journal of Korean Academy of Fundamental Nursing, 15, 495-503.
[15] Simpson, P. (2005) Hong Kong families and breast cancer: Beliefs and adaptation strategies. Psycho-Oncology, 14, 671-683. doi:10.1002/pon.893
[16] Coyne, E. and Borbasi, S. (2009) Living the experience of breast cancer treatment: The younger women’s perspective. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, 26, 6-13.
[17] Nizamli, F., Anoosheh, M. and Mohammadi, E. (2011) Experiences of Syrian women with breast cancer regarding chemotherapy: A qualitative study. Nursing & Health Sciences, 13, 481-487. doi:10.1111/j.1442-2018.2011.00644.x
[18] Rosedale, M. and Fu, M.R. (2010) Confronting the unexpected: Temporal, situational, and attributive dimensions of distressing symptom experience for breast cancer survivors. Oncology Nursing Forum, 37, E28-E33. doi:10.1188/10.ONF.E28-E33
[19] Helms, R.L., O’Hea, E.L. and Corso, M. (2008) Body image issues in women with breast cancer. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 13, 313-325. doi:10.1080/13548500701405509
[20] Frith, H., Harcourt, D. and Fussell, A. (2007) Anticipating an altered appearance: Women undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 11, 385-391. doi:10.1016/j.ejon.2007.03.002
[21] Klaeson, K., Sandell, K. and Bertero, C.M. (2011) To feel like an outsider: Focus group discussions regarding the influence on sexuality caused by breast cancer treatment. European Journal of Cancer Care, 20, 728-737. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2354.2011.01239.x
[22] Ussher, J.M., Perz, J. and Gilbert E. (2012) Changes to sexual well-being and intimacy after breast cancer. Cancer Nursing, 35, 456-465. doi:10.1097/NCC.0b013e3182395401
[23] Wilmoth, M.C. (2001) The aftermath of breast cancer: An altered sexual self. Cancer Nursing, 24, 278-286. doi:10.1097/00002820-200108000-00006
[24] Coward, D.D. and Kahn, D.L. (2004) Resolution of spiritual disequilibrium by women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 31, E24-E31. doi:10.1188/04.ONF.E24-E31
[25] Swinton, J., Bain, V., Ingram, S. and Heys, S.D. (2011) Moving inwards, moving outwards, moving upwards: The role of spirituality during the early stages of breast cancer. European Journal of Cancer Care, 20, 640-652. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2354.2011.01260.x
[26] Horgan, O., Holcombe, C. and Salmon, P. (2011) Experiencing positive change after a diagnosis of breast cancer: A grounded theory analysis. Psycho-Oncology, 20, 1116-1125. doi:10.1002/pon.1825
[27] Bertero, C. and Wilmoth, M.C. (2007) Breast cancer diagnosis and its treatment affecting the self: A metasynthesis. Cancer Nursing, 30, 194-204. doi:10.1097/01.NCC.0000270707.80037.4c
[28] Howard, A.F., Balneaves, L.G. and Bottorff, J.L. (2007) Ethnocultural women’s experiences of breast cancer: A qualitative meta-study. Cancer Nursing, 30, E27-E35. doi:10.1097/01.NCC.0000281737.33232.3c
[29] Sheppard, L.A. and Ely S. (2008) Breast cancer and sexuality. The Breast Journal, 14, 176-181. doi:10.1111/j.1524-4741.2007.00550.x
[30] Degner, L.F., Hack, T., O’Neil, J. and Kristjanson, L.J. (2003) A new approach to eliciting meaning in the context of breast cancer. Cancer Nursing, 26, 169-178. doi:10.1097/00002820-200306000-00001
[31] Triandis, H. (1995) Individualism and collectivism. Westview Press, New York.
[32] Lee, E.E., Tripp-Reimer,T., Miller, A.M., Sadler, G.R. and Lee, S. (2007) Korean American women’s beliefs about breast and cervical cancer and associated symbolic meanings. Oncology Nursing Forum, 34, 713-720. doi:10.1188/07.ONF.713-720
[33] Obeidat, R.F., Lally, R.M. and Dickerson, S.S. (2012) Arab American women’s lived experience with earlystage breast cancer diagnosis and surgical treatment. Cancer Nursing, 35, 302-311. doi:10.1097/NCC.0b013e318231db09
[34] Leung, P.P.Y. and Chan, C.L.W. (2010) Utilizing Eastern spirituality in clinical practice: A qualitative study of Chinese women with breast cancer. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 80, 159-183. doi:10.1080/00377317.2010.483673
[35] Banning, M., Hafeez, H., Faisal, S., Hassan, M. and Zafar, A. (2009) The impact of culture and sociological and psychological issues on Muslim patients with breast cancer in Pakistan. Cancer Nursing, 32, 317-324. doi:10.1097/NCC.0b013e31819b240f
[36] Banning, M., Hassan, M., Faisal, S. and Hafeez, H. (2010) Cultural interrelationships and the lived experience of Pakistani breast cancer patients. European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 14, 304-309.
[37] Lim, J.W., Baik, O.M. and Ashing-Giwa, K.T. (2012) Cultural health beliefs and health behaviors in Asian American breast cancer survivors: A mixed-methods approach. Oncology Nursing Forum, 39, 388-397. doi:10.1188/12.ONF.388-397
[38] Ormiston, G.L. and Schrift, A.D. (1990) The hermeneutic tradition: From Ast to Ricoeur. State University of New York Press, Albany.
[39] Geanellos, R. (1998) Hermeneutic philosophy. Part I: implications of its use as methodology in interpretive nursing research. Nursing Inquiry, 5, 154-163. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1800.1998.530154.x
[40] Ricoeur, P. (1971) The model of the text: Meaningful action considered as a text. Social Research, 38, 529-562.
[41] Caelli, K. (2000) The changing face of phenomenological research: Traditional and American phenomenology in nursing. Qualitative Health Research, 10, 366-377. doi:10.1177/104973200129118507
[42] Suh, E.E. (2008) The sociocultural context of breast cancer screening among Korean immigrant women. Cancer Nursing, 31, E1-E10. doi:10.1097/01.NCC.0000305742.56829.fc
[43] Suh, E.E. (2012) The effect of P6 acupressure and nurse-provided counseling on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in patients with breast cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 39, E1-E9. doi:10.1188/12.ONF.E1-E9
[44] Walters, A.J. (1994) An interpretive study of the clinical practice of critical care nurses. Contemporary Nurse, 3, 21-25. doi: 10.5172/conu.3.1.21
[45] Suh. E.E., Kagan, S.H. and Strumpf, N.E. (2009) Cultural competence in qualitative interview methods with Asian Americans. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 20, 194-201. doi:10.1177/1043659608330059
[46] Koch, T. (1995) Interpretive approaches in nursing research: The influence of Husserl and Heidegger. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 21, 827-836. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.1995.21050827.x
[47] Benner, P. (1985) Quality of life: A phenomenological perspective on explanation, prediction, and understanding in nursing science. Advances in Nursing Science, 8, 1-14.
[48] Boyatzis, R.E. (1998) Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development. Sage publication, Thousand Oaks.
[49] Leonard, V.W. (1989) A Heideggerian phenomenologic perspective on the concept of the person. Advances in Nursing Science, 11, 40-55.
[50] Koch, T. (1994) Establishing rigour in qualitative research: The decision trail. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 19, 976-986.doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.1994.tb01177.x
[51] Cho, H.J. (1988) Women and men of Korea. Munhak and Gisung, Seoul.
[52] Sim, Y., Jeong, J. and Yun, J. (2000) Mo-Seong-Ui Dam-Non-GwaHyeon-Sil (Discourse and reality of motherhood). Nanam, Seoul.
[53] Kim, E.H. (1998) The social reality of Korean American women: Toward crashing with the Confucian ideology. In: Song, Y.I. and Moon, A., Eds., Korean American Women from Tradition to Modern Feminism, Praeger, Westport, 23-33.
[54] Cho, H.J. (1998) Reflection on modernism and feminism: Women and men of Korea II. TtoHanauiMunhwa, Seoul.
[55] Kramer, E.J., Ivey, S.L. and Ying, Y.W. (1999) Immigrant women’s health: Problems and solutions. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
[56] Song, Y.I. and Moon, A. (1998) Korean American women: From tradition to modern feminism. Praeger, Westport.
[57] Geum, J. (2003) Hyeon-Dae-Han-Gug-Yu-Gyo-WaJeon-Tong (Modern Korean Confucianism and tradition). Seoul National University Press, Seoul.
[58] Im, H. (2002) Sa-Ju-Pal-Ja (Four pillars and fate). Samho Media, Seoul.
[59] Duranti, A. (1997) Linguistic anthropology. Cambridge University Press, New York. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511810190
[60] Sedikides, C. and Brewer, M.B. (2001) Individual self, relational self, collective self. Psychology Press, Philadelphia.

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.