This study assessed how women with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) perceive their risks of recurrence, dying from breast cancer, and psychological distress compared to women with early stage invasive breast cancer (EIBC). Eligible patients included those with DCIS or EIBC (T1 or T2, N0) referred to one cancer center between November 1998 and June 1999. Participants completed a self-administered survey regarding their views of their risks of developing recurrent cancer, of dying of breast cancer and the presence of psychological symptoms of distress. Responses were scored and compared between the two groups. In total, 495 patients were screened, 240 found ineligible, 228 patients who agreed to participate. No significant difference between the two groups was observed in perceptions of risk related to the likelihood of developing local recurrence (DCIS: 53%, EIBC 45%, P = 0.14), distant recurrence (DCIS: 36%; EIBC: 39%, P = 0.35) or dying of breast cancer (DCIS: 27%, EIBC 27%, P = 0.5). Both groups expressed similar levels of psychological distress (anxiety, DCIS: 56%, EIBC 54%, P = 0.38; depression, DCIS: 41%, EIBC, 48%, P = 0.17). Despite the excellent prognosis, women with DCIS express serious concerns and report similar psychological morbidity as women with invasive cancer.