Over 85 percent of women who develop breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease. For that reason, it’s clear why, according to a new study, only 10 percent of women were able to accurately estimate their risk for the disease, with the other 90 percent either underestimating or overestimating their risk.
The preliminary study was presented ahead of the 2013 Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco. Out of 9,873 survey respondents, who were ages 35 to 70, and preparing to undergo a mammogram, only 9.4 percent were able to estimate their risk for breast cancer within 10 percent of their actual risk. Out of the remaining women, 45 percent underestimated their risk and 46 percent overestimated their risk, MedPage Today reported.
“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,” Dr. Jonathan Herman, lead author of the study and obstetrician and gynecologist at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ Medical School in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“That means that our education messaging is far off and we should change the way breast cancer awareness is presented.”
Women were asked in the surveys to assess their risk for developing breast cancer over the course of the next five years. Minorities were more likely to underestimate their risk, while white women overestimated it. Many of those who underestimate their risk are most likely missing out on additional surveillance with magnetic resonance imaging and chemoprevention drugs, such as tamoxifen and raloxifene, Herman said. Meanwhile, those who overestimated their risk could be at risk of overtreatment, too much screening, and possible psychological harm, said Dr. Steven O’Day, presscast moderator for the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), to Medscape. The ASCO, along with five other organizations, is sponsoring the symposium.
“It’s not surprising at all that most people, regardless of breast cancer or any other topic, will underestimate or overestimate what it really is. And even after it’s been assigned to them, they will often walk away and still not really understand it,” Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancer at the American Cancer Society, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Herman placed some of the blame on physicians, who he said aren’t informing their patients enough. “Women should be aware of their breast cancer risk number, just as they know their blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index.”
Invasive breast cancer will affect an estimated one in eight American women during their lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates about 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 64,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer in 2013. Additionally, an estimated 39,620 people are expected to die from breast cancer.
The National Cancer Institute’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool can help assess one's risk, and going through the questions only “takes a minute,” Herman said. “But that minute is not being spent often enough in doctor’s offices.”