Most women are misinformed about their breast cancer risk: survey

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month is just around the corner, but are all those pink ribbons and walks helping women understand their own personal risk? Not so much, a new survey finds.

A new large-scale survey of American women reveals that many don’t understand their risk for developing breast cancer. What’s more, four in 10 women surveyed said that they had never discussed their breast cancer risk with a doctor.

“Women are surrounded by breast cancer awareness messages, through pink ribbons, walks, and other campaigns, yet our study shows that fewer than one in 10 women have an accurate understanding of their breast cancer risk -- that means that our education messaging is far off and we should change the way breast cancer awareness is presented,” lead study author Dr. Jonathan Herman, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ Medical School in New Hyde Park, New York, told HealthDay.

The takeaway: the researchers are hoping the findings will motivate women into asking for a formal estimation of their risk from their doctors. Then once you know your risk, talk to your doctor about the appropriate screening schedule you’ll need to follow over the years, the report said.

In the survey, researchers questioned 9,873 women between 35 and 70 years of age who were undergoing breast cancer screening at one of more than 20 mammography centers in New York. In addition to various questions about race, education, marital status, etc., the survey asked women to estimate their own risk of developing cancer over the next five years and over their lifetime. Questions were adapted from the National Cancer Institute’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, an interactive tool that doctors use to identify a woman’s risk.

As an overall group, 707 women accurately estimated their risk, 3,359 underestimated their risk, and 3,454 overestimated their risk.

"Women should be aware of their breast cancer risk number, just as they know their blood pressure, cholesterol, and BMI numbers,” Herman told HealthDay.

He will present his findings this weekend at the American Society of Clinical Oncology breast cancer meeting in San Francisco.

jw/kc

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