Polling Data Key to Educating the Public About Breast Cancer
Yes, I know. It's Breast Cancer Awareness month. Aside from the fact that every month is breast cancer awareness month for many of us, exactly what does the "awareness" mean? We recently conducted a survey to answer that question.
If "awareness" means that the public is knowledgeable about breast cancer, our survey shows something else: significant information gaps about a disease expected to claim some 40,000 lives in our country this year.
NBCC surveyed 1,004 women over the age of 18 and found that breast cancer was an issue women paid attention to: 61% said they had recently heard or read something about it, and 76% thought they knew a lot about the disease. The contradictions came when we asked a few breast cancer facts. The majority (56%) thought that most breast cancers occur in women with a family history or genetic predisposition to the disease. That's not true: more than two-thirds of women diagnosed have no known risk factors. And genetic predisposition accounts for less than 10% of breast cancer.
Another prevailing myth we uncovered: 70% of our study's respondents believed that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables could prevent breast cancer. Unfortunately, recent studies have found no significant decrease in the incidence of breast cancer when consumption of fruits and vegetables was increased. The reality is that we do not yet know how to prevent breast cancer.
These survey results were a call to action for NBCC. The work that lies ahead for us is to educate the public about the real facts about breast cancer and how to bring about meaningful change.
In October, many Americans put on pink ribbons. While that includes the vast majority of women in our survey, only 36% of our survey respondents believed that buying or wearing a pink ribbon is a very important activity.
When asked who should be the most responsible for funding research around breast cancer treatments or prevention, more than a third of the respondents said it should be the federal government. Yet only 5% had ever contacted a member of Congress about breast cancer legislation. Only 8% were aware that the government funds research. So, if the vast majority of us actually engaged in very important activities -- like contacting Congress on issues that have been shown to make a real difference in this disease -- maybe we would move beyond awareness to real action to end breast cancer.
If as much effort was devoted to finding adequate funding for research and universal access to quality care as is devoted to "raising awareness," the fight against breast cancer could take a quantum leap forward. The time has come to take the next step beyond pinning on pink ribbons. We urge women and men nationwide to join us in our work to improve research, diagnosis and treatment and ultimately end this disease forever.
Our survey respondents have hope for the future. Eighty-six percent of survey respondents over 50 believe that prevention will succeed in their children's lifetime. We would like that to be the reality and not just hope. We can get there and we will, through action, not just awareness.
Take the National Breast Cancer Coalition's awareness quiz: