An education in breast cancer risk

Sometimes a study is published that provides a whole new perspective on an issue. That’s what happened for me earlier this week with the publication of a study on the public’s knowledge of breast density and its connection to breast cancer risks.

Writing every day about imaging, the statistics have been drilled into my head. About 40 percent of women have dense breast tissue and mammograms miss approximately half the cancers in dense breasts. Add to this the fact that high breast density is a greater risk factor than having two first degree relatives with breast cancer, and it seems like knowledge about the risks associated with dense breast tissue should be widely known.

Turns out, if someone isn’t as plugged in to the research on imaging, there’s a decent chance they don’t know. Just 19 percent of 1,000 U.S. adults included in a recent survey were aware of the link between breast density and cancer. The findings come from a survey conducted by Millward Brown and sponsored by GE Healthcare that questioned 10,000 adults across 10 countries.

The U.S. was not alone in having low rates of understanding on the issue. Australia, the U.K. and Japan were the least aware of the link at 13 percent, 9 percent and 2 percent, respectively. On the flip side, Russian and Indonesia had the highest rates of understanding, with more than half of respondents in both countries demonstrating awareness of the risks.

The findings suggest a need for more concerted education efforts and more media attention. Only one out of five respondents overall said they had seen or read media coverage of the breast density issue in the past six months, and unsurprisingly, the countries reporting the most media coverage also had the highest rates of awareness.

Great strides have been made on this issue in recent years. Nineteen states containing more than half the U.S. population have passed breast density notification laws to inform women with dense breast tissue of the risks after they receive a mammogram. As these campaigns expand, the awareness rate in the U.S. will only continue to rise.

-Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging