Make sure you’re not falling for these myths
Myths about breast cancer are all too commonplace, and it’s getting harder to separate fact from fiction. We presented Jenevieve Hughes, MD, FACS, breast surgeon on the medical staff at Methodist Richardson Medical Center, with a list of the most common myths. Here she debunks many frequent misconceptions and draws attention to the facts.
Myth: Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer
Dr. Hughes: Not necessarily. It could be a cyst or benign growth, especially in younger women. See your doctor to have it checked out, but don’t assume the worst.
Myth: Having an abnormal mammogram means you have breast cancer.
Dr. Hughes: The statistics tell a different story. Only 10 percent of patients will have an abnormal mammogram, and of those, only about 10 percent actually have breast cancer.
Myth: Men don’t get breast cancer; it only affects women.
Dr. Hughes: Not true. About 1 percent of all breast cancer cases are male.
Myth: If you have a family history of breast cancer, you are likely to develop it, too.
Dr. Hughes: According to the American Cancer Society, most women (8 out of 10) who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease, but women who have close blood relatives with breast cancer have a higher risk of the disease. I see this in my practice; most of my patients don’t have a family history, but the ones who do have a higher risk. Alternatively, too often patients with no family history falsely assume they aren’t at risk.
Myth: If the gene mutation BRCA1 or BRCA2 is detected in your DNA, you will develop breast cancer.
Dr. Hughes: A person with genetic mutations, such as the BRCA genes, has an increased risk, but that does not necessarily mean that they will develop breast cancer. Different genes have different cancer risks.
Myth: Lifestyle choices, such as drinking caffeine, wearing an underwire bra, using antiperspirant, will cause breast cancer
Dr. Hughes: Most of the time we don’t know what causes cancer. It’s not realistic to live in a bubble, so over a lifetime, the air we breathe, the foods we eat, and water we drink could contribute to any type of cancer forming in the body. Try to live as healthy as possible — commit to a healthy diet, incorporate fitness into your daily life, have an annual wellness check with a health professional, and limit the unhealthy choices, such as alcohol and processed foods.
Myth: Breast implants can raise your cancer risk.
Dr. Hughes: False. They can make it more difficult to detect breast cancers, but they don’t increase your risk of developing cancer.
Myth: Overweight women have the same risk of breast cancer as other women.
Dr. Hughes: Many studies have shown that being overweight and obesity are associated with a modest increase in risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.
Myth: You can’t get breast cancer after a mastectomy.
Dr. Hughes: Unfortunately, this isn’t true. You can develop cancer in the skin, fatty tissue, muscle, or lymph nodes near the breast.
Myth: Removing the entire breast gives you a better chance of surviving breast cancer than having a lumpectomy with radiation therapy.
Dr. Hughes: A lumpectomy is also called breast-conserving surgery, whereas a mastectomy removes all breast tissue. Multiple studies have shown equivalent survival rates for these two treatment options, so ask your doctor about your options.
Myth: Breast cancer is always detected due to a lump in the breast or other common symptom.
Dr. Hughes: Actually, most cases are caught with mammography screening.
Myth: Annual mammograms expose you to such a high level of radiation that they actually increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
Dr. Hughes: It’s important to know that we are all exposed to natural radiation every day. As for mammograms, the benefits of detecting cancer early far outweigh the drawbacks of the radiation exposure. Flying on an airplane from New York to San Francisco three times a year exposes you to more radiation than a mammogram.
Myth: If your mammography report is negative, there is nothing else to worry about.
Dr. Hughes: Sometimes women can be falsely reassured. Make sure you mention any or all symptoms such as swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, pain, redness, or discharge to your doctor. Never ignore a symptom just because the report is negative.