Before I get into the details of what you need to know about breast cancer, it’s important to clear the table of some of the persistent myths and fears that exist. The disease is tough enough as it is without the fear factor impeding our ability to fight back. Please be patient with me here. If you find these myths ridiculous, then good for you, as it indicates that you’re informed on the matter. Just understand that these are real questions that other physicians and I hear often. Remember, knowledge is power.
1. “If a family member of mine has breast cancer, that means I’ll get it too.”
- It is only true to say that women who have a family history of breast cancer have a higher risk of developing it. Overall, only approximately 10% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family cancer, and most women with breast cancer have no family history. In other words, a family member with breast cancer isn’t a life sentence for you, and it shouldn’t stop your efforts to lower your other risks and focus on early detection and treatment.
2. “All lumps in my breast are breast cancer.”
- There are two important points for you to remember. First, any persistent change in the breast or armpit (axilla) should not be ignored. Remember, I will be stressing the importance of early evaluation for the purposes of detection. That said, only a small percentage of breast changes represent cancer (about 80% of lumps are benign). The really good news is if you learn and perform consistent breast exams, you will detect these changes earlier than anyone else and very often early enough to make a difference.
3. “Men don’t get breast cancer.”
- Unfortunately, I know this not to be the case within my family. Annually, there are over 400 breast cancer deaths among men from over 2000 new cases being diagnosed. Men should pay attention just as women do because unfortunately, in part due to the delayed detection, the death rate of breast cancer in men is higher than in women.
4. “I heard breast implants cause cancer.”
- No. There’s no increased risk with breast implants and breast cancer. However, you can legitimately say implants sometimes obscure the view of possible cancer on a mammogram.
5. “The risk of breast cancer is always 1 in 8.”
- Actually it’s 1 in 8 during a woman’s lifetime. The important distinction is the risk increases as one ages, from 1 in 233 in a woman’s 30s up to 1 in 8 across the board by age 85.
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