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Popular Press Inflates Breast-Cancer Risk

Cancer before age 50 not common

Women's magazines and newspapers paint a distorted picture of a woman's risk for breast cancer, say researchers. An analysis of articles in publications such as Redbook, Glamour, Time, Ebony and The New York Times Magazine finds only 14 percent of the stories informed readers that the risk of breast cancer rises with age.

Many articles describe the personal experiences of breast-cancer survivors. Forty-seven percent of the stories featured women who developed cancer before age 40. Such stories create unnecessary fears among younger women, says Dr. Wylie Burke, a physician and medical historian who led the research. Popular press stories about breast cancer also might mislead older women, making them think they have a lower risk for the disease when, in fact, they should be most vigilant, Burke says.

Scientists have identified two genes that increase the risk for early breast cancer in women. However, only about 10 percent of women have a genetic predisposition to the disease. Overall, just 16 percent of breast-cancer cases occur in American women under 50, says a Washington Post feature reprinted in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Only 3.6 percent occur in women under 40. Women in their 70s and 80s have the highest risk.

The good news for older women is that breast cancer is often less aggressive in those over 70. A story in The Times of India says that gentler medical approaches, such as hormone therapy, are effective in older women.

Although four-fifths of breast cancers occur in women after age 50, the American Cancer Society still advises women 20 and older to perform monthly breast self-examinations. The Deseret News describes common risk factors for breast cancer and says an increasing number of women survive the disease.

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