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Posted by on Sep 7, 2011 in Health | 7 comments

Andrea Mitchell Tells The World She Has Breast Cancer, Confuses Risk With Prevalence

breast cancer pink ribbonAndrea Mitchell, 65, the NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent, announced on the air Wednesday that she has breast cancer and asserted that 1-in-8 women in America today (almost 20 15 million) have breast cancer.

“I had planned to be hiking in Wyoming last week,” Mitchell said, “but instead discovered that I am now among the one in eight women in this country–incredibly, one in eight–who have had breast cancer. Mine was discovered during my annual screening just a short time ago. Luckily for me I am one of the fortunate ones. We discovered it in the earliest stage. It had not spread, and I’m already back at work with a terrific prognosis.” (emphasis added)

I wish her well … and I’m glad for the PSA: “Screening matters. Do it.” Early detection is important.

But 1-in-8 women living in the U.S. today do not have breast cancer.

The lifetime risk of a woman in the US having breast cancer is 1-in-8.

In 2007, an estimated 6,361,000 American women were living with a diagnosis of breast cancer, slightly more than half of all Americans with cancer. That’s called prevalence, “the total number of people living with cancer at any point in time.”

The U.S. Census has estimated that there were 301,579,895 Americans — 152,967,793 of them women — in July 2007. That’s means 4 percent of America’s female population had been diagnosed with breast cancer; that’s approximately 4-in-100 or 1-in-25. Subtract the approximately 30 million who are younger than age 15 and the number changes to 5-in-100 or 1-in-20 — a far cry from 1 in 8.

I’ve not seen a single news story that has corrected her statistic. Journalism as stenography remains the rule, not the exception.

About Cancer Risk

The risk of breast cancer, any cancer, increases with age. Mitchell will be 65 next month. The breast cancer risk for women aged 60-69 is 3.45 percent or 1-in-29. In my age group, the risk is 2.38 percent or 1-in-42.

I’m well aware of these risks as I found myself launched into “high risk” in March after a questionable annual mammogram morphed into a biopsy which morphed into a surgical biopsy (lumpectomy). My diagnoses : lobular carcinoma in situ, a marker for an increased risk of invasive cancer in the same or both breasts, and atypical ductal hyperplasia, a marker for an increased risk of invasive cancer in the same breast. My risk has jumped from 1-in-8 lifetime risk to 1-in-4.

Tomorrow I have my first bilateral MRI and a followup mammogram. I’ll be having tests every six months for at least two years, according to my oncologist.

As scary as breast cancer is — seems to be — it’s not what kills most woman in America. That’s heart disease, which kills six times as many women as breast cancer.