Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States (other than skin cancer). And while it takes over 40,000 lives in the U.S. each year, it isn't the deadliest cancer. (Lung cancer is). But when it comes to inspiring fear, breast cancer is in a class by itself. As is often the case with diseases, much of the fear springs from misunderstanding. How much do you know about breast cancer? Take this short quiz to find out.

1. Family history is a strong predictor of breast cancer. If close relatives have the disease, I'm at grave risk of getting it. True or false?

True

False

2. Which of the following may slightly increase your risk of breast cancer?

a. Taking birth control pills.

b. Having large or lumpy breasts

c. Breast implants

d. None of the above

3. Women who inherit faulty versions of the breast-cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are more likely to develop the disease. True or false?

True

False

4. Most lumps in the breast are harmless. True or false?

True

False

5. Mammograms are nearly foolproof. If the radiologist sees something suspicious, you almost certainly have cancer. True or false?

True

False

Your Results

1. Family history is a strong predictor of breast cancer. If close relatives have the disease, I'm at grave risk of getting it. True or false?

The correct answer is: False.

A family history of breast cancer can double your risk of developing the disease. That means that if you would have had a 1.5 percent chance of developing the disease in the next five years, with your family history factored in, you now have a 3 percent chance. In fact, the disease spares about three out of four women with a strong family history (such as an affected mother and sister). On the other hand, 70 to 80 percent of women who develop breast cancer have no family history.

2. Which of the following may slightly increase your risk of breast cancer?

The correct answer is: a. Taking birth control pills.

According to the American Cancer Society, taking birth control pills slightly increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, though that risk level returns to normal after a woman has been off the pill for ten years. (If you're at high risk for the disease, you should talk to your doctor before taking any hormone treatments.) The size and shape of your breast won't put you at risk, and neither will implants. And if you've read the rumors on the Internet, you'll be relieved to hear that antiperspirants and underwire bras can't cause cancer.

3. Women who inherit faulty versions of the breast-cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are more likely to develop the disease. True or false?

The correct answer is: True.

Up to 80 percent of women with one of these faulty genes will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society. If a genetic test shows you're at risk, you'll need to be especially vigilant. Regular mammograms and breast self exams could save your life. Your doctor may also prescribe the drug tamoxifen to reduce your risk of breast cancer.

4. Most lumps in the breast are harmless. True or false?

The correct answer is: True.

If you find a lump during a self-exam, tell your doctor right away. However, you shouldn't assume the worst. Breast tissue goes through many natural changes, and 80 percent of lumps turn out to be nothing serious.

5. Mammograms are nearly foolproof. If the radiologist sees something suspicious, you almost certainly have cancer. True or false?

The correct answer is: False.

Mammograms are valuable tools, but they often give false alarms, more frequently in younger women. At the same time, they can miss cancers in their early stages. Mammograms generally miss 15 percent of malignant tumors. For this reason, you shouldn't rely on mammograms alone. Although controversy continues about the right age for women to start having mammograms -- and whether they should be yearly or every other year -- the American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms and breast exams by a doctor for all women over 40. Women between 20 and 39 should have their breasts examined by a doctor every three years.

References

Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer: What are the Advantages and Disadvantages? National Cancer Institute/CancerNet, 2001

National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference Statement, Breast Cancer Screening for Women Ages 40-49, January 21-23, 1997. What are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?, American Cancer Society.

Kumle M, et al. Use of Oral Contraceptives and Breast Cancer Risk. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers &Prevention. Vol. 11, 1375-1381. November, 2002.

American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Facts and Figures, 2003-2004.

American Academy of Family Physicians. Genetic Testnig for Breast Cancer Risk: What Does It Mean to Me? November 2005.

American Cancer Society. Overview: Breast Cancer, What Causes Breast Cancer? September 2005.

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