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Understanding Risk

Posted 1/8/2015

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   Let's be honest: we are all at risk all the time for any number of things. The biggest risks of the day for most of us are driving or being a passenger in a car and, probably, walking on ice. We know the cliche about the greatest number of accidents happen within a mile of home, and statistically that is true. But it does not feel that way, and we don't go around worrying all the time about falling down the stairs or tripping on a loose rug or a shoe that has been left in the middle of the room. We generally don't worry about getting into a car, but we often worry about getting onto a plane. In terms of life time risk, the risk of dying in a motor vehicle accident is 1 in 98 while the risk of dying in a plane crash if 1 in 7,178. Pretty big difference.

  My experience with women post cancer is that we can be roughly divided into two groups: those who now feel that they can manage anything because the worst has already happened, and those who worry about more bad things now that they recognize their vulnerability. Most of us probably move between those two positions, but land more often in one than the other. Many cancer patients do not accurately appreciate their personal risk for being diagnosed in the first place or for having a recurrence after treatment. We may be way off in either direction, and our decisions may be based on inaccurate understand--something referred to as risk perception rather than the real risk.

  An example here is the growing number of women who opt for bilateral mastectomies when there is no medical reason to do so. Yes, there are women (those who carry a gene mutation or those with some specific issue about their particular breast cancer) who are told that a bilateral mastectomy would be wise, but, for most of us, it makes no difference in terms of prognosis.

  As an aside, my rather cynical view (especially if you read yesterday's blog about two thirds of all cancers being random bad luck) is that the two things we can really do for our health are not to smoke and always use a seat belt.

  This is a prologue to an excellent article from the Komen Foundation about risk. This is germane to all kinds of cancers, not just breast. Here is the start and a link:

Understanding Risk
Every day, we take steps to reduce risks in our lives. We wear a helmet when riding a bike and wear seat belts when driving to reduce the risk of getting hurt, but most of us don't spend too much time thinking about risk. However, it's important to understand risk as it relates to health.
"Risk" has special meanings in the health and medical fields. Knowing the basic types of risk can help you understand your chances of getting breast cancer and the steps you can take to lower your risk.


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