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Patient Educ Couns. 2013 Aug;92(2):253-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2013.03.016. Epub 2013 Apr 24.

Belief in numbers: When and why women disbelieve tailored breast cancer risk statistics.

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  • 1VA Ann Arbor Center for Clinical Management Research, Ann Arbor, USA.



To examine when and why women disbelieve tailored information about their risk of developing breast cancer.


690 women participated in an online program to learn about medications that can reduce the risk of breast cancer. The program presented tailored information about each woman's personal breast cancer risk. Half of women were told how their risk numbers were calculated, whereas the rest were not. Later, they were asked whether they believed that the program was personalized, and whether they believed their risk numbers. If a woman did not believe her risk numbers, she was asked to explain why.


Beliefs that the program was personalized were enhanced by explaining the risk calculation methods in more detail. Nonetheless, nearly 20% of women did not believe their personalized risk numbers. The most common reason for rejecting the risk estimate was a belief that it did not fully account for personal and family history.


The benefits of tailored risk statistics may be attenuated by a tendency for people to be skeptical that these risk estimates apply to them personally.


Decision aids may provide risk information that is not accepted by patients, but addressing the patients' personal circumstances may lead to greater acceptance.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.


Breast cancer; Decision aids; Risk calculator; Shared decision making

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