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Surgery. 1996 Aug;120(2):297-303.

Perception of breast cancer risk among women in breast center and primary care settings: correlation with age and family history of breast cancer.

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Division of Surgical Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA.



A great deal of information about breast cancer risk is available to the public. The accuracy of impressions formed from this information is unknown.


A total of 750 women attending a breast center and 112 women attending a primary care office completed written surveys of their perceptions of average population risk, personal lifetime risk, and personal 10-year risk of getting breast cancer. Data sufficient to apply the Gail model were obtained, and a calculated estimate of risk was generated. Ratios of perceived to calculated risk were correlated with the respondent's age, family history of breast cancer, and location in a breast center or primary care office.


Women in both practice settings overestimated population risk by more than twofold. Eighty percent overestimated personal lifetime risk by more than 50% and 35% by more than fivefold. Only 7% significantly underestimated risk. Ten-year risk estimates were even more inaccurate, with 69% overestimating risk by more than fivefold, 46% by more than 10-fold, and 17% by more than 20-fold. Results from a primary care population were nearly identical. Women at the extremes of age were most inaccurate in estimating risk. It was surprising that family history had little impact on perception of personal risk.


Women in both breast center and primary care settings have a fals:ly high perception of both short-term and long-term breast cancer risk. Health care providers should recognize these misconceptions and be aware that many women may benefit from risk counseling.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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