With all the talk about breast cancer, you’re bound to hear a few things that simply aren’t true. So, in an effort to help keep you informed, We’ve compiled a list of the most common myths about breast cancer that patients ask about. Here they are (in no particular order):
Myth #1: Living a healthy lifestyle means you won’t get breast cancer.
I wish this were true. Unfortunately, breast cancer does occur in healthy women. That said, living a healthy lifestyle is the number one thing you can do to protect yourself. Eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables, exercising, not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption will greatly lower your risk. In fact, numerous studies have discovered a direct link between obesity and cancer. You can lower your risk for breast cancer simply by maintaining a healthy weight. So, while living a healthy lifestyle won’t guarantee you’ll never develop breast cancer, it will certainly improve your odds of staying healthy.
Myth #2: If you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, you won’t get breast cancer.
I hear this one a lot: “Nobody in my family has ever had breast cancer, so I’m safe.” The sad news is that 80% of breast cancers occur in people without a family history of this disease. If your mother or sister has suffered breast cancer, you are at an increased risk. But even if nobody in your family has ever had any kind of cancer, you still need to take necessary precautions. About one out of every eight women will develop this disease at some point in their life. Only 20% will have a family history of breast cancer.
Myth #3: Bras and antiperspirant can cause breast cancer.
There is no clinical evidence that bras, undergarments or antiperspirant cause breast cancer. As an oncologist heavily involved in research, I can say with confidence that it’s very unlikely that breast cancer begins with any single cause. Most researchers agree it’s a culmination of risk factors that make a person more likely to develop breast cancer, including a poor diet, obesity, smoking, drinking alcohol and genetics.
Myth #4: All lumps found in breasts are breast cancer.
If you discover a lump in your breast, don’t panic. About 80% of all lumps are benign. This in no way means you should ignore a lump. Always consult with your doctor about any abnormalities in your breast, including changes in size or shape, skin color and nipple appearance. If you do find something unusual, remember there’s a good chance it may be nothing. But you need to see your doctor to know for sure.
Myth #5: Breast cancer only occurs in older women.
Your risk for developing breast cancer increases with age, but being young doesn’t mean you can’t get breast cancer. It just means you’re less likely to. According to the American Cancer Society, most breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. That said, I have seen a girl as young as 17 diagnosed with breast cancer. The bottom line is: breast cancer can strike any time, so always be on guard.
Myth #6: Mammograms cause breast cancer.
A mammogram is an x-ray examination of your breasts that helps doctors screen for changes. X-rays use radiation, which has led some people to believe that mammograms cause cancer. There is no clinical evidence for this. In fact, the amount of radiation you’re exposed to during a mammogram is equivalent to spending about ten minutes in the sun. Rest assured, mammograms are completely safe.
Myth #7: Breast cancer doesn’t happen in smaller breasts.
This is completely false. The size of your breasts has no correlation to your risk of developing breast cancer.
Myth #8: Having breast cancer means you’ll lose a breast.
If you get breast cancer, you’ll probably need surgery to remove the tumor. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll lose your breast. Advances in technology have enabled surgery to become more precise. Small tumors can often be removed with little alteration of your breast. For women who need a lumpectomy, a host of cosmetic surgery options can help preserve the natural shape of your breast. And if you do need a full mastectomy, the last few years have seen amazing advances in reconstructive surgery.
Myth #9: Getting surgery for breast cancer can spread it to other organs.
Some patients believe that surgically opening your breast and removing a tumor allows cancer cells to “leak” to other parts of the body. Fortunately, that’s not how cancer works. This myth stems from rare cases where patients learn they have cancer in another part of their body even after a partial or full mastectomy. In these situations, the breast cancer has already spread prior to the surgery. Partial and full mastectomies are safe, effective treatment options that have stood the test of time.
As you can see, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about the fight against breast cancer. It’s important to separate the truth from the myths in order to better protect yourself against this disease.
And as always, stay proactive. Unless otherwise directed by your doctor, the American Cancer Society recommends the following screening guidelines:
• Yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as you’re in good health
• Clinical breast exams by a physician every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over
• Remain aware of how your breasts normally look and feel and report any changes promptly to your health care provider.
Remember, breast cancer will affect one out of every eight women at some point in their life. By arming yourself with accurate information and following your screening guidelines, you’ve already lowered your risk.
9 Myths about Breast Cancer
9 Myths about Breast Cancer (February 8, 2013)