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84% of Young Canadians Believe This About Breast Cancer

Written by Kat Lourenco
Rethink Breast Cancer campaign

When it comes to breast health, over 80% of SLNers are confused about the facts.* Enter Rethink Breast Cancer—they’re on a mission to bust these breast cancer myths.

This morning I hopped on a call with my best friend. “How are you?” she asks. I reply with the usual state of affairs—tired, stressed, and in need of groceries. Oh, and my face is breaking out, on the day I have an interview.

In a way, I’m always talking about my health. But that doesn’t mean I’m clear on what I can (and can’t) do about it. I’m quick to spin a headline into a deeply-rooted belief—to the point of telling my friends to avoid everything from plastic water bottles to underwire bras.

In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness month, SLN asked 1,500+ female students* about their perceptions around prevention and risk, to see if they share similar assumptions.

Turns out, they do. Fewer than 25% feel they know the causes of breast cancer and how to reduce their risk.

The good news?

Women know more than we think we know. Almost 70% of us accurately identified the signs and leading risk factors of breast cancer.

And although we don’t feel like we have all the answers, 68% feel comfortable making decisions about their own health.

Here’s what we learned.

We’re confident about our role in our own health.

95% of us agree that there are lifestyle choices we can make to reduce our risks (like what we eat and how active we are), and even if we do develop breast cancer there is info, education, and support for us. So even when we’re unsure of what we need to know, we’re confident that we can take control of our own health.

While breast changes and lumps could signal cancer (as 83% of us correctly identified), hormonal changes through puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy can cause a variety of changes that are perfectly normal.

We get tripped up on sweeping, scary statements.

A whopping 82% of us believe tanning increases your breast cancer risk. A lifetime of warnings about the dangers of UV exposure has certainly stuck. Except that tanning increases your risk of skin cancer, not all cancers. It’s wise to play it sun-safe, we know that. But let’s not make the doom and gloom all-encompassing, shall we?

The number one factor in your risk of getting breast cancer is your family history, according to 84% of us. Those with a family history of breast cancer are at an increased risk, particularly if you have inherited the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene mutations. In fact, only 5-10% of breast cancers diagnoses are hereditary. So yes, our doctors need to know our family health history, but no need to add getting breast cancer to our long-enough list of stressors.

We’re not sure when it comes to our lifestyle choices.

Here’s where we’re on the fence. What do we have control over? Should we believe everything we read, or let the cards fall as they may?

SLNers were split down the middle when it comes to stress, alcohol consumption and cell phone use on our breast cancer risk.

Research does give some insight to help us make our own day-to-day choices, whatever those may be.

 Studies have shown a correlation between drinking alcohol and breast cancer risk, with risk increasing with each additional drink consumed per week.

 Stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits, which could potentially increase a person’s risk of breast cancer, among many other health complications.

  All research done so far has not shown a link between cellphone use and breast cancer.

So let’s continue to do our research through trusted sources, make the best choices we can with the information we have, and be gentle with ourselves about making changes as new info becomes available.

Check out the Breast Cancer Hotline from Rethink Breast Cancer.

*Student Life Network conducted an online survey from October 12 to October 15, 2017 with 1,652 English-language Canadian females, ages 16 to 25. The respondents were randomly selected from the Student Life Network subscriber base of more than 800,000 Canadian students and recent graduates.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.