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Most Women Don't Understand Breast Cancer Risk

White women overestimated their odds while other groups underestimated, researcher found

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More women may have considered their own breast cancer risk after media attention about actress Angelina Jolie's recent decision to have a preventive double mastectomy after her mother died of ovarian cancer and Jolie tested positive for a BRCA gene mutation. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

The news about Jolie raised awareness in a good way, Herman said, with women seeking advice about what to do and whether they need the test.

At Fox Chase, there was a rise in requests for genetic testing, but many of the women asking about it were in the high-risk group, Daly said, so it was appropriate.

In the survey, black women underestimated their risk, which is lower than that for white women, Daly said. "Their incidence rates are lower, but their survival is also lower," she said, as a more aggressive cancer can strike them.

Most important, Daly said, is for women to learn their family history. "We like to go back at least two generations, parent and grandparents, on both sides."

Once a woman knows her risk, she needs to know if the screening schedule she follows is appropriate and what else she should be doing, Herman and Daly agreed.

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