In a recent survey, the American Cancer Society found
that many women are misinformed about breast cancer risk. According to the
survey, nearly half of the respondents thought that women in the United States
have a 30% to 50% chance of developing the disease, while 66% believed that the
risk is greater than 20%. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, the
average lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is approximately 11%. Women
who were surveyed also thought that the risk for getting breast cancer is
greatest between the ages of 30 and 49 years, when in reality, that risk
increases with age. According to the Society, 77% of new cases and 84% of breast
cancer deaths reported between 1994 and 1998 occurred in women aged 50 years and
While the risks are much lower than what women in the survey understood them
to be, breast cancer death tolls are still extremely high. By the end of the
year, 192,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,600 women will
die of the disease.
Spreading the Word
"This important research shows there is a lot of information out there
about breast cancer risk, which women are unable to easily understand in terms
of their personal risk for getting this terrible disease," said Carolyn D.
Runowicz, MD, member of the American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Council.
"The American Cancer Society encourages women to talk to their doctors
about what breast cancer risk means to them personally."
Women in the survey also said that they are most likely to talk to their
female friends about health issues, with nearly 70% saying that they are greatly
or somewhat influenced by the opinions of others when it comes to these
This reliance on peers as a source of health information underscores how
important it is for women to educate themselves about breast cancer and provide
the correct information to friends and loved ones. With that understanding, the
American Cancer Society started the Tell A Friend program in 1992. The program
uses trained volunteers to contact friends and loved ones to encourage them to
get mammograms. Early detection through mammography could reduce the breast
cancer death tollnearly 97% of women who were diagnosed with breast cancer at
an early stage survive for more than 5 years. Tell A Friend volunteers contacted
more than 155,000 women last year.