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One in Five Women Don’t Believe Their Breast Cancer Risk

Study finds lack of trust, despite tailored risk assessment (August 15)

Despite taking a tailored risk assessment tool that factors in family history and personal habits, nearly 20 percent of women did not believe their breast cancer risk, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The findings, published in Patient Education and Counseling, are part of a larger study looking at how to improve patients’ understanding of risk information.

Approximately 690 women who were at above-average risk of developing breast cancer completed a web-based decision aid, which included questions about age, ethnicity, personal history of breast cancer, and the number of first-degree relatives who had had breast cancer. The women then were told their 5-year risk of developing breast cancer and were given information about prevention strategies.

After receiving this information, the women were asked to recall their risk of breast cancer within the next 5 years. If they answered incorrectly, they were asked why (they forgot, made a rounding error, or disagreed with the number). The researchers found that 22 percent of women who misreported their risk said they disagreed with the numbers.

The most common reason women said they disagreed with their risk was that their family history made them either more or less likely to develop breast cancer. One-third of the women cited a “gut instinct” that their risk numbers were too high or too low.

“Women who believe their risk is not high might skip chemoprevention strategies that could significantly reduce their risk,” said senior author Angela Fagerlin, PhD. “And women who think their risk should be higher could potentially undergo treatments that might not be medically appropriate, which can have long-term ramifications.”

Source: University of Michigan; August 15, 2013.

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