October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and one thing we’ve learned over the years is that amid the sea of pink it’s sometimes difficult to separate the facts about breast cancer from the fiction.

A new survey released by the National Breast Cancer Coalition this week revealed that while the majority of respondents consider themselves knowledgeable about breast cancer, that knowledge is often incorrect. For instance, the majority of women surveyed incorrectly believe the breast cancer can be prevented.

The reality is that while women can reduce their risk by limiting alcohol consumption and not taking hormones, the risk cannot entirely be eliminated.

The biggest risk factor is age: While the media often presents images of young women in their 30s and 40s battling the disease, 80 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women over age 50.

Most women also believe that most breast cancers occur in families with a genetic history of the disease, yet genetic mutations only account for between 5 and 10 percent of breast and ovarian cancers. More than two-thirds of women diagnosed have no known risk factor.

“We’re surrounded by pink ribbons and other messages about raising awareness,” Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, tells the Chicago Tribune. “But these popular efforts lull the public into a false sense that adequate progress is being made.”

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” adds Visco. “In order to take meaningful action, we need to educate, not just raise awareness.”

In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on looking at environmental factors and endocrine disruptors. Earlier this year, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Silent Spring Institute published Environmental Factors in Breast Cancer, a review of scientific research on environmental factors that may increase breast cancer risk. One new study, reported in the L.A. Times this week, suggests a link between exposure to the pesticide DDT and breast cancer.

The National Breast Cancer Coalition just launched the Breast Cancer Caucus to encourage each  presidential candidate to explain what he or she would do as president to eradicate breast cancer.

Women’s Voices for Change will continue to focus on breast cancer this month with articles by medical experts, such as today’s guest contributor, Dr. Patrick Borgen, director of the Brooklyn Breast Cancer Project at the Maimonides Cancer Center.

If you have specific questions you want answered, please leave them in the comments below.


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