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

New Survey Shows What Diseases Women Fear Most

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 7, 2005) - Women’s fear of heart disease has almost doubled since 2002, but breast cancer remains the single most feared disease, according to a new survey commissioned by the Society for Women’s Health Research and released today. 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. The other notable change centers on Alzheimer’s disease, where 4.6 percent of women fear it most, compared to 2.8 percent in 2002.

“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.”

Heart disease kills 500,000 American women each year, which is over 50,000 more women than men. It strikes women on average 10 years later than men. Women are more likely than men to have a second heart attack within a year of the first one.

Of more than 1,000 adult U.S. women surveyed, 9.7 percent list heart disease, which includes heart attack, hypertension, and 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, which is virtually unchanged from the previous survey (22.4 percent). 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. HIV and AIDS is the most feared disease among African American women, but fear of it has dropped from 34.1 to 29.3 percent. That drop may be tied to black women’s increased fear of heart disease, which has tripled from 2.7 to 8.4 percent. Fear of AIDS in the South (8.8 percent) and West (7.7 percent) is below the national average (9.3 percent).

“The Centers for Disease Control 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 should strengthen calls 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 1005 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.


Quinn, Thomas C. and Julie Overbaugh. “HIV/AIDS in Women: An Expanding Epidemic.” Science 10 June 2005: 1582-1583.

What Diseases Do Women Fear Most?*

Top 10 Feared Diseases 2005 2002
Cancer (unspecified) 24.0% 27.5%
Breast Cancer 22.1% 22.4%
Heart Disease 9.7% 5.3%
HIV/AIDS 9.3% 11.3%
Alzheimer’s Disease 4.6% 2.8%
Ovarian Cancer 2.7% 3.1%
Lung Cancer 2.4% 2.3%
Diabetes 2.4% 2.2%
Colon Cancer 1.6% 1.8%
Stroke 1.2% 0.4%

*1,005 adult (aged 18 and older) U.S. women surveyed. Results weighted for age, income, region, education, race and size of metropolitan area where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. Conducted by telephone June 22-29, 2005, by International Communications Research (ICR) of Media, Pa., for the Society for Women’s Health Research, the survey has a 95 percent confidence level. The 2002 survey was conducted in the same manner by ICR, June 19-25, 2002, included 1019 adult women and had the same confidence level.

Notes: Heart disease includes heart attack, hypertension, other heart-related disease except stroke. All cancer responses combined totaled 57.1 percent in 2005 and 60.4 percent in 2002.

Leading Causes of Death in U.S. Women - 2002**

1. Heart Disease 28.6%
2. Cancer 21.6%
3. Stroke 8.0%
4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases 5.2%
5. Alzheimer's disease 3.4%
6. Diabetes 3.1%
7. Unintentional injuries 3.0%
8. Influenza and pneumonia 3.0%
9. Kidney disease 1.7%
10. Septicemia 1.5%

**From the U.S. Centers For Disease Control’s Office of Women’s Health: www.cdc.gov/od/spotlight/nwhw/lcod.htm and www.cdc.gov/od/spotlight/nwhw/lcod/02all.pdf


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