Women `not aware of risk of cancer' breastBreast cancer awareness `increasing'

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MOST WOMEN do not think that they will get breast cancer and only a third recognise that it is principally a disease of older women, a survey has shown.

Only 2 per cent of women thought they were "very likely" to develop breast cancer, while 13 per cent thought they were "quite likely" to get the disease; most of these were younger women who were at lower risk.

The Breast Cancer Campaign, which commissioned the survey, said the findings showed that a cancer awareness campaign last year had not created excessive anxiety in women, contrary to claims made by critics at the time.

Overall, almost 80 per cent of the 1,000 women surveyedfound the campaign informative helpful and relevant. Awareness of the disease had increased, with three-quarters of those surveyed accepting that they should check their breasts regularly.

The report notes, however, that "not all the important messages appear to have been taken in". Only 35 per cent of the women had realised that older women were more at risk, and 38 per cent were not aware that breast cancer could be successfully treated.

Despite negative publicity about the NHS, 56 per cent of women would prefer NHS to private-sector care were they to get breast cancer. Younger women were more likely to prefer private treatment.

Confidence in the NHS was also reflected in the belief shared by 80 per cent of women that it would offer them the best drugs available.

Almost half of women wrongly believed that they would get the same standard of treatment wherever they lived in the UK. Studies show that women do better if they are referred to a hospital with a specialist breast unit.

Pamela Goldberg, director of the campaign, said: "It is very important with a high-profile campaign like Breast Cancer Awareness Month that the right messages are being sent and understood. We do not wish to frighten women but we do want to inform and educate."

In a foreword to the report Dr Miriam Stoppard, patron of the campaign, says that most women remain ignorant of Britain's poor record on cancer and the wide variations in the quality of treatment.

"The UK has the lowest proportion of medical cancer specialists per head of population and the lowest levels of expenditure on anti-cancer drugs compared to the US, France and Germany. Sadly, however, out of all these countries the UK has the highest incidence of cancer deaths."

The risk of dying from breast cancer is often quoted as 1 in 12 but this applies over a woman's entire lifetime. The chances of falling victim over any 10-year period are much smaller. A women entering her 30s has a 1-in-250 chance of developing the disease in the next decade. In her 40s it is 1 in 77. Although the incidence of breast cancer increases with age, the risk in any decade never exceeds one in 34, evenfor women in their 80s.