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Breast Cancer Risk: Perception vs. Reality

Study: Nearly 90% of Women Overestimate Breast Cancer Risk

Numbers Don't Give Context continued...

Many also wrongly believed women in their 30s and 40s are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than older women.

Only about 18% of breast cancer diagnoses occur in women in their 40s, while about 77% of women with breast cancer are older than 50 when they are diagnosed, according to ACS figures.

Researcher Lisa M. Schwartz, MD, says cancer awareness campaigns often scare people with numbers that highlight the magnitude of cancer risk but provide little context.

Schwartz and colleagues with Dartmouth Medical School's VA Outcomes Group created a series of cancer risk-assessment charts to help people understand their true risk of dying from the disease.

While it is true that 40,000 women die from breast cancer each year, the risk of dying in your 40s and even 50s remains quite small, she notes. A 40-year-old woman who has never smoked, for example, has a 0.2% chance of dying from breast cancer before she is 50, and her risk will be less than 1% until she reaches age 70.

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