While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heart disease is the leading cause of death in U.S. women, many believe breast cancer is the more common killer, according to a recent study out of the University of Missouri (MU).
Minority and less educated women, in particular, have significantly greater odds of reporting that breast cancer results in more deaths than heart disease, researchers say.
“We have done an excellent job in educating women about breast cancer, but too often, they see heart issues as something only men suffer from,” says Dr. Marlon Everett, a cardiologist at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. “Women are very good at making sure others are well taken care of, and that means they sometimes put taking care of themselves lower on the list.”
Now, experts are worried that this misconception is due to a lack of education among women of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds on U.S. population health.
The pink ribbon and related awareness campaigns helped breast cancer death rates decrease over the past decade, as screenings resulted in earlier detection. Now one in 30 women will die from breast cancer, according to the CDC. As encouraging as the news is, one in every seven women die from heart disease, even as most view breast cancer as a higher risk.
“The pink ribbon is one of the most recognizable symbols in the world and is associated with a very effective campaign, which might relate to the perception that breast cancer is a more common killer than other women’s health issues,” said Julie M. Kapp, associate professor in the Department of Health Management and Informatics in the MU School of Medicine, in a news release.
Dr. Everett says the number of women being diagnosed with cardiac issues are increasing at an alarming rate each decade, yet the number of men being diagnosed is decreasing.
The report recommends the medical community emphasizes lifestyle factors such as nutrition, smoking and exercising in hopes of reducing the risk of obesity and heart disease. Medical officials state they must increase education for women on heart issues, because 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms, according to the American Heart Association.
“Many women still see a heart attack as clutching your chest, like they see in sitcoms and medical dramas,” says Dr. Everett. “In actuality, women have far different symptoms than men when they have heart ailments. It can be as subtle as a general feeling of uneasiness, so listen to your bodies.”
Dr. Everett says common heart disease symptoms for women include arm, back, neck, or jaw pain, along with stomach pain, shortness of breath, nausea, or lightheadedness, sweating and fatigue.
The study, “A Strategy for Addressing Population Health Management,” was recently published in Public Health Management Practice.