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About The Heart Truth

Women's Fear of Heart Disease Has Almost Doubled in Three Years, But Breast Cancer Remains Most Feared Disease

Survey Shows What Diseases Women Fear Most

Women's fear of heart disease has almost doubled since 2002, but breast cancer remains the single most feared disease, according to a survey commissioned by the Society for Women's Health Research. Fear of HIV and AIDS has declined, although AIDS cases in U.S. women increased an estimated 15 percent between 1999 and 2003, compared to a one percent increase in men.

"Women increasingly recognize that heart disease is the biggest health threat they face over the course of their life," Phyllis Greenberger, president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research, said. "Through improved research, increased advocacy, and better news reporting, women and their health care providers are getting the message that heart disease is the number one killer of women. Although heart disease strikes women later in life than men, there are steps we can take at all ages to reduce our risk, such as exercise and proper diet, as well as recognize and treat the condition when it develops."

Of more than 1,000 adult U.S. women surveyed, 9.7 percent listed heart disease, which includes heart attack, hypertension, other heart-related disease except stroke, as the disease they fear most. That is almost double the 5.3 percent noted in an identical 2002 Society survey. More than twice as many women, 22.1 percent, say they most fear breast cancer. That is almost unchanged from the previous survey. All cancer responses combined totaled 57.1 percent. Ovarian cancer (2.7 percent) was the second most feared cancer, followed by lung cancer (2.4 percent).

"While the risk of breast cancer should not be diminished," Greenberger said, "women need to know that lung cancer actually kills more, claiming the lives of almost 70,000 American women each year."

Only 9.3 percent of women say they most fear HIV and AIDS, which is down from 11.3 percent in 2002. Fear of HIV and AIDS is highest among African American women and women under the age of 35. Fear of AIDS in the South (8.8 percent) was below the national average (9.3 percent).

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that women in the South make up 76 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S., but they represent just 30 percent of the nation's population," Greenberger said. "Our survey shows the need for greater education on HIV and AIDS and greater access to care."

The Society for Women's Health Research is the nation's only non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the health of all women through research, education and advocacy. The Society encourages the study of sex differences between women and men that affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

International Communications Research of Media, Pa., conducted the survey for the Society by telephone June 22-29, 2005, among a nationwide cross section of 1,005 U.S. women aged 18 and older. Figures for age, income, region, education, race, and size of metropolitan area were weighted where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. The survey has a 95 percent confidence level.

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Last Updated: February 29, 2012

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