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Keywords:

  • Breast neoplasms;
  • communication;
  • percentage learning;
  • perceptions

The objective of this article is to compare the accuracy and numeric responses of breast cancer risk perception as measured by a frequency scale and percentage scale. A cross-sectional survey was conducted. Perceptions of five-year and lifetime breast cancer risk were measured using a frequency and a percentage scale. Estimation error was calculated as the absolute difference between actual breast cancer risk as determined by the Gail model and perceived risk. Agreement between scales was determined by calculating the mean and standard deviation of the difference between numeric responses. The study was conducted among women enrolled in two primary care clinics associated with an academic medical center. Two-hundred-fifty-four participants were recruited from one of the two participating internal medicine clinics. Inclusion criteria included female gender and age 40–84 years. Exclusion criteria included a history of breast cancer, dementia, or a life expectancy of less than two years. The frequency scale was more accurate than the percentage scale in estimating lifetime risk (p= 0.05), but less accurate in estimating five-year risk (p < 0.02). Only 79 participants (31%) were considered consistent scale users, providing identical responses when using the frequency and percentage scale for a given risk estimate. Although the mean difference (percentage-frequency scale) for estimates of breast cancer lifetime risk was only 2.4, the empirically determined 90% limits of agreement between the frequency and percentage scale for lifetime risk were wide, from –30 to 40. Higher numeracy was associated with consistent use of scales (OR 1.61, 95% CI; 1.09–2.37). We report disagreement in breast cancer risk perceptions when measured by a frequency and a percentage scale. The accuracy and direction of bias associated with each scale varies according to the time frame of risk being assessed.