Many myths and misconceptions surround breast cancer, the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women. In 2017, almost 253,000 new cases will be diagnosed in women, according to the American Cancer Society. Here are some common mistaken beliefs about the disease:
Myth: Breast cancer can be caused by antiperspirants, deodorants or underwire bras.
Fact: None of these things has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.
Myth: Women with small breasts don’t have as much risk of breast cancer as women with larger breasts.
Fact: The size of a woman’s breast bears no relation to her risk of developing breast cancer.
Myth: There’s nothing I can do to decrease my risk of breast cancer.
Fact: Living a healthy lifestyle can help decrease your risk. This includes vigorous exercise two to three times a week, a low-fat diet high in whole grains, having no more than one alcoholic drink a day, not smoking and keeping your weight under control after menopause.
Myth: Having a “breast cancer gene” such as BRCA1 or 2 means I will definitely develop breast cancer.
Fact: Not everyone with a breast cancer gene will develop breast cancer. It’s true that women with one of these genes have a higher risk. According to the National Cancer Institute, 12 percent of women in the general population will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives, while 55 to 65 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and around 45 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70.
Myth: Breast cancer is less of a risk after age 70.
Fact: Quite the opposite – the risk of all cancer, including breast cancer, increases with age. Although guidelines generally recommend that women over 70 discontinue mammograms, we advise all women should continue to be screened with mammography as long as they remain healthy and vigorous and have a reasonable life expectancy.
Myth: Only women get breast cancer.
Fact: While breast cancer is much less common among men, about 2,470 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in men this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Myth: Having a biopsy will cause breast cancer to spread.
Fact: A biopsy is the surest way to diagnose breast cancer. If the disease spreads, it’s not because of the biopsy.
Myth: If I feel a lump that doesn’t show up on a mammogram, it can’t be cancer.
Fact: If you’ve recently had a mammogram that didn’t show any signs of cancer, and you then find a lump, it doesn’t mean it’s not cancer. Overall, screening mammograms miss about 20 percent of breast cancers that are present at the time of screening, according to the National Cancer Institute. If you feel something that did not show up on a mammogram, see a breast health physician for advice and consultation and a further workup.
Myth: If I’m diagnosed with breast cancer, I must have surgery immediately.
Fact: Although it’s understandable that a woman would want immediate treatment, it’s safe to take a little time to get a second opinion, and make sure you have the right information about the type of surgery and other treatment that is best for you.
Myth: Having a mastectomy to treat breast cancer is more likely than having a lumpectomy to increase a woman’s life expectancy.
Fact: The life expectancy and survival rates are the same for most breast cancers whether a woman is treated with a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. It’s true that there is a small risk that breast cancer may return after a lumpectomy with radiation. However, in those cases, a woman who goes on to have a mastectomy has the same survival rate and life expectancy as a woman who had a mastectomy right after diagnosis.
Myth: Breast cancer surgery always results in ugly scars.
Fact: Although breast surgery does involve leaving scars, it’s possible to hide them so they’re not visible. At Nyack Hospital, we use the Hidden Scar approach, in which we place the incision in a location that is hard to see, so the scar isn’t visible when your incision heals. As a result, you have little to no visible reminder of the surgery or your cancer. It’s even possible to have a mastectomy with reconstruction without a visible scar.
Myth: Most women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease.
Fact: About 80 percent of women with the disease don’t have a family history. Women who have close blood relatives with breast cancer do have a higher risk of the disease. Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer almost doubles a woman’s risk. Having two first-degree relatives increases her risk about threefold. Women with a father or brother who have had breast cancer also have a higher risk of breast cancer.