Confusion Abounds Over Breast Cancer Risk Factors

December 1, 1995
Volume 4, Issue 12

NEW YORK--Two thirds of American women say they are personally doing something to decrease their chances of getting breast cancer, but many seem to be confused as to what constitutes the major breast cancer risk factors, results of a nationwide survey suggest.

NEW YORK--Two thirds of American women say they are personallydoing something to decrease their chances of getting breast cancer,but many seem to be confused as to what constitutes the majorbreast cancer risk factors, results of a nationwide survey suggest.

When presented with a list of eight possible factors, 48% of the1,331 respondents to the survey (all of whom were women aged 18to 65) cited injury to the breast as increasing a woman's riskof developing breast cancer. Fewer were able to identify someactual breast cancer risk factors: 42% cited "not havingchildren," 38% listed "having first child after age30," and only 25% checked "beginning to menstruate beforeage 11."

When asked to cite the three most important risk factors for breastcancer from a list of nine such factors, 91% correctly identifiedheredity as an important factor, but 53% cited smoking as beingamong the top three.

Environmental factors were cited by 37% of the respondents, anddiet by 33%. Not having children was ranked in the top three by24% of women, and 18% cited stress as an important breast cancerrisk factor. The three lowest rated factors on the list were obesity(17%), lack of exercise (10%), and alcohol consumption (10%).

When to Get a Mammogram?

The survey also revealed misinformation about mammography amongthe respondents. About one third said they were confused abouthow often they should have a mammogram, and more than half (58%)seemed to think that women under age 40 should have regular mammograms.(These women disagreed with the statement: "Regular mammo-gramsare unnecessary for women under 40 years of age.")

Almost 80% of the respondents believe a woman should not waitfor her physician to recommended a screening mammogram beforegetting one. Sixty percent said they have had a mammo-gram, including35% of those 18 to 39 years of age.

Susan Love, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)Medical School, said that the study suggests "we've oversoldmammography and made it sound like, 'If it works for older women,it should work for younger women.'"

The three-page questionnaire was developed jointly by Mark ClementsResearch, Inc. and Glamour/Hanes Hand in Hand (a breast healtheducation program for women aged 18 to 39 created by Glamour magazineand funded by Hanes Hosiery), with assistance from the US Officeof Women's Health and the National Cancer Institute.