While thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no way to know for sure if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll develop breast cancer, new tools are coming close to giving you an accurate assessment of your risk. The problem is, nearly 1 in 5 women who takes a risk assessment tool doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe her results, according to a new study published in the journal Patient Education and Counseling.
The researchers had 690 women complete the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool (BCRAT), which asks questions about their age, ethnicity, personal and family history of breast cancer, age at first menses and first live birth, and history of breast biopsies. They were then told their approximate risk of developing breast cancer in the next five years and asked to recall this later. While some women answered incorrectly because they forgot or made a rounding error, 19 percent of the women misreported because they disagreed with the result. And interestingly, more women thought their number was too low rather than too high.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This could be because there are things the tool didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t measure and women are aware of that,Ã¢â‚¬Â says lead study author Laura Scherer, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Missouri. For instance, the tool didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t measure health and lifestyle factors like weight, diet, or history of smoking or drinking. It also didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take into account first-degree male relatives with breast cancer or whether or not women had received hormone replacement therapy. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Another possibility is that the BCRAT score is only your five year risk of breast cancer, which is much lower than your lifetime risk, which is what most women are used to hearing,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Scherer. And yet another possibility is that women are simply scared of breast cancer and are skeptical of a lower-than-average risk.
Even if these tools donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take into account every possible factor that can elevate your risk, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s important to take the estimates they give you seriously. Ã¢â‚¬Å“These risk calculators are the best estimators of their risk that we have right now,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Scherer. Ã¢â‚¬Å“And to that extent, it seems this is information that women should be aware of and potentially listen to, even if they are skeptical.Ã¢â‚¬Â Plus, previous research has shown that the perception of your risk largely influences what medical steps you take to prevent, screen for, and treat cancerÃ¢â‚¬”so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s crucial to have as much information as you can to make more educated decisions.
So what should you do if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re clueless when it comes to the possibility of cancer? Talk to your primary care doctor about your risk factors, and if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re very worried, you can ask to be referred to a genetic counselor, says Scherer. You can also take Bright PinkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Assess Your Risk Tool to see how various genetic, health, and lifestyle factors may impact your risk.
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