Mythbusters - The Breast Cancer Edition

breast cancer awareness

So, you're on top of your breast health. Great! You understand your risk factors. You do your monthly self-exams and get your yearly mammogram. And you know the facts about breast cancer.

...or do you?

According to the American Cancer Association, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and the second deadliest. Breast cancer will affect one out of every eight U.S. women in their lifetime, and even though we've made huge advances in treatment, more than 42,000 people will die in the U.S. from the disease this year alone.

We want to help raise awareness about breast cancer by sharing - and debunking - some of the most common misconceptions we have about breast cancer with facts and figures. Our goal is to dispel these myths because when it comes to protecting your health, knowledge is power.

Myth # 1: Men don't get breast cancer.

Although it is rare, men can develop breast cancer. Men may not always think of themselves as having breasts. Men often refer to them as their chest or "pecs," but the fact is, men have breast tissue, so they can get breast cancer. Men with family histories of breast cancer should talk with their doctors about their personal risks.

Also - if you have a male relative with breast cancer, you should talk to your own doctor about what that means for you. You could be at increased risk for developing breast cancer. Genetic consultation becomes more important when men in the family have breast cancer.

Myth # 2: There's a history of breast cancer in my family, so I'm bound to get it.

While a family history of certain types of cancer can increase your risk of breast cancer, most women with breast cancer don't have a family history of the disease. In fact, only about 13 percent of women with breast cancer have a close relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer. That is because most breast cancers are not caused by an inherited trait.

Because breast cancer can happen to anyone, it's important for all women to get mammograms regularly. Guidelines can vary among health organizations. The American Cancer Society recommends annual screenings for women age 45 and older, though they may start as early as age 40. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you.

Myth # 3: If I have breast cancer, I will need a mastectomy.

Your cancer's stage, your personal medical history, and your personal preference will determine the type of surgery that is appropriate. The majority of breast cancers in the United States are found at an early stage. Lumpectomy is an effective surgical treatment for early-stage breast cancer. Choosing mastectomy does not offer any greater success in the treatment of an early-stage breast cancer. Many studies have shown that lumpectomy has the same survival outcomes as mastectomy.

Myth # 4: Breast implants can raise your cancer risk.

Research shows that women with breast implants are at no greater risk of getting breast cancer than women without them. That said, breast implants may make it harder to read mammograms, so additional X-rays are sometimes needed to more fully examine breast tissue.

Myth # 5: Breast cancer hurts.

Early breast cancer is very rarely painful. Most often breast pain is caused by a noncancerous condition, such as hormonal changes, fibrocystic breast tissue, or breast cysts.

Myth # 6: If I find a breast lump, it's probably cancer.

Most lumps that women find during breast self-exams are not breast cancer. Usually they are normal tissue changes or benign lumps. In fact, in its earliest stages, most breast cancers do not cause lumps. Be sure, however, to talk to your doctor if you feel a lump or notice changes in your breast that may be a sign for concern. These changes include breast or nipple pain, swelling in the breast, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple retraction (turning inward), or scaliness of the nipple of skin. This is one reason experts recommend regular mammograms, which can identify breast abnormalities before they can be seen.

Myth # 7: If I maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat healthy, and limit alcohol, I don't have to worry about breast cancer.

Unfortunately, this is something doctors hear again and again from newly diagnosed women: "I eat healthy, I'm at a healthy weight, I'm active, and I barely drink. So how did I end up with breast cancer?" While there is evidence that all of these behaviors can help lower your risk, they can't guarantee you'll never get the disease. There are many examples of people who do everything right and still get breast cancer.

It's certainly worth managing the risk factors you can control, such as what you eat and drink and how physically active you are. But it's still vitally important to get regular mammograms, perform breast self-exams, and pay attention to any unusual changes in your breasts.

Myth # 8: A mammogram can cause breast cancer to spread

A mammogram, or x-ray of the breast, currently remains the gold standard for the early detection of breast cancer. Breast compression while getting a mammogram cannot cause cancer to spread. According to the National Cancer Institute, "The benefits of mammography, however, nearly always outweigh the potential harm from the radiation exposure. Mammograms require very small doses of radiation. The risk of harm from this radiation exposure is extremely low."

The standard recommendation is an annual mammographic screening for women beginning at age 40. Base your decision on your physician's recommendation and be sure to discuss any remaining questions or concerns you may have with your physician.

Myth # 9: I could get breast cancer because I wear underwire bras.

Don't worry; you can keep wearing your underwire bra. Scientific evidence does not support a link between wearing an underwire bra (or any type of bra) and breast cancer risk. There is no biological reason why the two would be linked.

Myth # 10: Mammograms don't save lives.

Most women swear by annual mammograms, while a small minority remain skeptical. The truth is that mammograms DO save lives by finding breast cancer early - when treatment is most successful. Mammography remains the best screening test for breast cancer, with other tests being used to add detail or clarify what is seen on mammogram. While mammograms aren't 100% foolproof, they provide the best chance of early detection, which is vital to survival and recovery.

Summit Medical Group provides mammography services at three locations: Cedar Bluff, Fountain City, and Wellington/Deane Hill. Call (865) 588-8005 today to schedule a screening.