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 Myths and Misconceptions About Breast Cancer

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PostSubject: Myths and Misconceptions About Breast Cancer   Wed Jul 25, 2007 8:08 pm

The truth behind some of the most common misconceptions about breast cancer.

By Christine Many


Public awareness about breast cancer has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. Yet misleading ideas still persist. Here, we explain the truth behind common misconceptions.

Myth: The "one in eight chance of breast cancer" statistic means that if eight women are randomly selected, one of them must have or will get breast cancer.

Fact: In reality, the statistic -- which comes from the
National Cancer Institute -- is an estimate of a woman's chance of developing breast cancer during her entire lifetime. So if a woman lives to be 85, she has a one in eight (12.5%) chance of getting breast cancer. But for younger women the odds are much better. For example, a 50-year-old woman has a 1 out of 54 chance. At age 40, a woman's odds of getting breast cancer are 1 in 235. Of course, these probabilities are based on population averages, so an individual woman's risk may be higher or lower, depending upon various factors, including family history, reproductive history and other factors that are not yet fully understood.

Myth: Only women can get breast cancer.

Fact: Men have breast tissue, so it is possible for them to develop breast cancer. Like all cells of the body, a man's breast duct cells can undergo cancerous changes. Because women have many more breast cells than men do, and perhaps because their breast cells are constantly exposed to the growth-promoting effects of female hormones, breast cancer is much more common in women. This year about 1500 men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States. Read our article on
male breast cancer for more information.

Myth: Using deodorant or antiperspirant causes breast cancer.

Fact: This urban legend has suggested that chemicals in antiperspirants are absorbed through the skin, interfere with lymph circulation and cause toxins to accumulate in the breast that eventually lead to breast cancer. There is absolutely no experimental or epidemiological evidence to support this. Chemicals in products such as antiperspirants are tested thoroughly to ensure their safety.

Myth: Mammograms are painful and unsafe.

Fact: Mammograms can be uncomfortable, but the compression of the breast during mammography takes only a few minutes. To lessen discomfort, schedule your mammogram when your breasts are least sensitive (not right before your period). Mammograms result in only minimal exposure to radiation, so they are safe.

Myth: Any mass that shows up on a mammogram is most likely cancerous.

Fact: Most abnormalities will turn out not to be cancer. A mass could be a cyst or another benign breast condition. Your physician can perform an ultrasound or biopsy to investigate further.

Myth: Breast-feeding increases your risk for breast cancer.

Truth: A woman who breast-feeds can get breast cancer, but no studies indicate that breast-feeding causes breast cancer. In fact, some studies indicate that breast-feeding can reduce a woman's risk of developing the disease.

Myth: If breast cancer doesn't run in your family, you won't get it.

Fact: About 80% of women who get breast cancer have no known family history of the disease. Increasing age is the biggest single risk factor for breast cancer. If you have a family history of breast cancer, your risk may be elevated a little, a lot, or not at all. If you are concerned, discuss your family history with your physician or a genetic counselor.

Myth: Birth-control pills cause breast cancer.

Fact: Today's birth-control pills contain a low dose of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. They have not been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and, in fact, can provide some protection against ovarian cancer. The higher-dose contraceptive pills used in the past were associated with a small increased risk in only a few studies.

Myth: A monthly breast self-exam is the best way to find breast tumors.

Fact: High-quality mammography is the most reliable way to find breast cancer as early as possible -- when it is most curable. By the time a tumor can be felt, it is usually bigger than the average size of one first detected by mammogram. However, breast examination by you and your health care provider is still very important. About 25% of breast cancers are found only on breast examination (not on the mammogram), about 35% are found using mammography alone and 40% are found by both physical exam and mammography. So it's important that you take a three-step approach: yearly mammograms (for women 40 and older), yearly clinical breast exams, and monthly self-exams.

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, National Breast Cancer Foundation
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