Breast cancer risk awareness shown lagging

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While the Supreme Court passed the summer sussing out IP issues over Myriad's breast-cancer gene claims, researchers in the New York area readied their breast-cancer risk awareness findings for the 2013 Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco.

The results are sobering, because they show a divide between the noise around awareness and getting screened and how that translates on an individual level: researchers found that just 9.4% of the 9,873 women surveyed in 21 mammography centers on Long Island correctly assessed their breast cancer risk by the time they hit 90. Their full report is slated to be published in the October Journal of Clinical Oncology, just in time for a slew of stories about breast cancer awareness campaigns to kick in as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month which starts October 1.

Meanwhile, researchers found that 44.7% of the surveyed women underestimated their risk and 45.9% overestimated their risk, with the final math being that 90.7% of the surveyed women lacked “accurate knowledge about their own breast cancer risk.” Researchers wrote that the findings are important because they indicate a need to put an educational emphasis on risk awareness because it will help providers create patient-specific medical plans.

This is a sore point of sorts, in that the abstract's release dovetails with the Institutes of Medicine's recent findings that cancer care is falling short, just as the cancer population is poised to spike. Among the IOM's findings were that doctors are not sufficiently discussing care options, including palliative care, with patients and that a majority of patients mistakenly believe the care they are receiving will cure them of their disease.

The IOM report also noted that the complexity of the disease is also making it harder for doctors to keep up. As an example, a 2012 study by the charity Cancer Research UK found that breast cancer is comprised of 10 different diseases, and each of these diseases has its own complexities. In March 2013 this same organization found that an individual's breast, prostate and ovarian cancer risk is linked to genetic variations that appear in 80 regions of the genome. This study looked for single nucleotide polymorphisms – gene changes – and found 49 for breast cancer, “more than doubling the number previously identified,” the group noted in the study's announcement.

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