HealthDay News — Fewer than 10% of women accurately estimate their risk for breast cancer, with most overestimating or underestimating their likelihood, a survey of nearly 10,000 women indicates.

Compared with validated risk formulas, 9.4% of participants provided estimates close to their calculated risk, whereas about 45% underestimated their risk and 46% overestimated their risk, Jonathan D. Herman, MD, from Hofstra North Shore-LIJ Medical School in New Hyde Park, N.Y., and colleagues reported in a press briefing.

The researchers will present their findings on Saturday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 2013 Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco.

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“Despite ongoing media attention, awareness campaigns, pink ribbons, breast cancer walks and breast cancer month, most women lack accurate knowledge of their own breast cancer risk,” Herman said. “Patients must have a better understanding of their personal risk.”

Few studies have compared women’s perceptions about breast cancer risk with actual risk calculated by validated scales, so Herman and colleagues surveyed 9,873 women aged 35 to 70 years from 21 mammography centers on Long Island to compare their perceived breast cancer risk with their calculated risk.

Women were administered a 25-question survey regarding their demographics, personal risk factors and their perceived risk for breast cancer through age 90 years. 

About 3% of participant estimated their breast cancer risk to be between 0% to 5%; 35% estimated it was between 5% and 10%; 40% estimated 10% to 15%; 12% estimated 15% to 20%; 5% estimated 20% to 25%; and 5% estimated a lifetime risk greater than 25%. 

Among racial and ethnic groups, white women were more likely to overestimate their risk, whereas blacks, Hispanics and Asians were more likely to underestimate their risk. 

For African-Americans, 8.7% were in line with risk, 57.6% underestimated their risk, and 33.7% overestimated their risk. For Asian women the corresponding figures were 10.2%, 58.8%, and 31%; for Hispanics the figures were 8.9%, 50.4% and 40.8%; and for whites the figures were 10.2%, 38.6%, and 51.3%.

“[This] means that our education messaging is far off and we should change the way breast cancer awareness is presented,” Herman said, adding that accurate understanding of is important because it may influence interest and participation in cancer screening and prevention efforts.

A follow-up study is underway to determine healthcare providers’ understanding of breast cancer risk and their perceptions of what their patients know about their risk.


  1. Herman JD et al. Abstract #04. “Women’s understanding of personal breast cancer risk: Does ethnicity matter?” Presented at: Breast Cancer Symposium. September 7-9, 2013; San Francisco.