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Confused about breast cancer? You’re not alone. There is a great deal of information available about this disease, but not all of it is clear or accurate. Breast cancer continues to change, as new research is shared by Dr Sandra Krishnan who gives us more insight into how it develops and how it can be treated.
However, there are still a lot of myths surrounding breast cancer. The internet also adds some information that may be incorrect. Therefore, sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the good and the bad. These misconceptions could lead to women being unaware of the dangers of the disease and can also cause unnecessary delays in getting the correct preventive treatment.
What are these everyday breast cancer myths and misconceptions?
We are here to tackle a few half-truths and incorrect beliefs about breast cancer to keep women informed about the disease.
(A) Myths about developing breast cancer
As such, there is no such evidence that the factors listed below affect the risk of developing breast cancer, even though you may have heard otherwise. Let us study them in detail
Ø Myth: Only women with a family history of breast cancer are at risk: This is one of the most encountered myths about breast cancer.
Fact: A family history of certain types of cancer can amplify your risk of breast cancer. However, most women with breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease. Studies show that approximately13% of women with breast cancer have a close relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer. So, even if nobody in your family had breast cancer, you may still be at risk of developing it.
Ø Myth: Breast cancer is a genetic disease: Another common myth related to breast cancer development is about the underlying genetics behind the cancer
Fact: Research shows that only a very small percent (5%-10%) of breast cancer cases arise due to abnormal genes. Two genes identified on chromosome 17, BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2), may increase the risk of breast cancer. Only 5% of breast cancer cases are related to mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Furthermore, a mutation in the BRCA gene is only one of the risk factors for developing breast cancer.
Ø Myth: Men don’t (or can’t) get breast cancer: Another prevalent breast cancer myth which is witnessed by most people.
Fact: The truth behind this myth is that men do not have breasts. But men have a chest or “pecs”. But the fact remains that men have breast tissue. While it might sound surprising to some people, breast cancer can occur in men.
Ø Myth: A lump in your breast means you have breast cancer: This disturbing myth also forms one of the major concerns about developing breast cancer.
Fact: Not all the lumps found in the breast are cancerous or malignant. In most cases, the lump is benign (non-cancerous). The lump found in the breast is a cyst or a fibroadenoma, a non-cancerous abnormal growth. Studies show that 9 out of 10 breast lumps are not cancerous. Also, keep in mind that it is common for women to develop lumps in the breasts at different times during the menstrual cycle. So, don’t jump to conclusions before speaking to a specialist. Always consult your doctor, especially for lumps that persist for two or more menstrual cycles.
Ø Myth: Nipple discharge indicates breast cancer: This is another common myth surrounding breast cancer.
Fact: First of all, most nipple discharges do not indicate a cancerous condition. Approximately, 20% of women may experience spontaneous milky, opalescent, or clear fluid nipple discharge. Usually, if the discharge is clear, milky, yellow, or green, it does not indicate cancer. Bloody or watery nipple discharge is considered abnormal; however, only 10% of abnormal discharges are cancerous.
Ø Myth: Combinations of antiperspirants/deodorant cause of breast cancer:** This is one of the leading incorrect beliefs about breast cancer.
Fact: This is not true. Antiperspirants (or antiperspirant/deodorant combinations) do not cause breast cancer. There have been some reports that aluminum found in deodorants and antiperspirants can penetrate the skin and can cause changes in breast cells leading to cancer. However, the research studies conducted with this objective does not support a link between deodorant use and risk of breast cancer. The truth is that since aluminum can interfere with x-ray readings during a mammogram, women are asked not to use deodorant or antiperspirant preceding the test.
(B) Myths about screening/detection of breast cancer
This category of breast cancer also has some myths. Let us study a few of them.
Ø Myth:A mammogram causes breast cancer: This is a common misconception about breast cancer.
Fact: This is incorrect. A mammogram is a safe procedure that uses extremely low levels of radiation to create detailed images of the breast. This screening procedure is used for the detection of breast cancer.
Ø Myth: A mammogram averts breast cancer: This myth is also related to the screening procedure of breast cancer
Fact: Though mammography is an excellent tool to screen and detect breast cancer at an early stage, it cannot prevent breast cancer. Presently, mammography is the only FDA approved test to screen for breast cancer in asymptomatic women.
Ø Myth: Practice Breast Self-Examination (BSE) in the shower: This is one of the misconceptions regarding the detection of breast cancer
Fact: Self-breast examination can be performed while in the shower. However, wet, soapy hands may make it difficult for a woman to feel the details of the breast. Additionally, cold air or water also causes the breasts and nipples to contract.
(C) Myths about breast cancer treatment and aftercare
There are various myths related to breast cancer treatment. Let’s see a few of these.
Ø Myth: A woman diagnosed with breast cancer will lose her breast.
Fact: This is not true. Many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer will undergo some type of surgery as part of their treatment. However, breast-conserving therapy called lumpectomy is a common treatment for early-stage breast cancer. It is the surgical removal of a breast lump and surrounding margins of normal breast tissue.
Ø Myth: Mastectomy ensures complete elimination of breast cancer.
Fact: Mastectomy, a procedure for removing the affected breast does not ensure the recurrence of breast cancer. Some women experience the reappearance of breast cancer at the site of the mastectomy scar. There is also the possibility that cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body.
Ø Myth: Chemotherapy leads to alopecia (hair fall)
Fact: This is also not true. Hair loss is only one of the temporary side effects of chemotherapy. Hair loss and other side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of drugs administered, their dosage, and the duration of treatment. Some women experience few if any adverse effects from drug treatment. In most cases, the hairs regrow after completion of the chemotherapy.
Ø Myth: Breast cancer is preventable.
Fact: Unfortunately, no! Even though it is possible to identify risk factors and make lifestyle changes, you can lower your risk (reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption, losing weight, getting regular exercise and screenings, and quitting smoking). Studies show about 70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors, which means that cancer occurs largely by chance and according to as-yet-unexplained factors or conditions.
Misconceptions and incorrect information about breast cancer can cause women more anxiety than necessary. Not all breast cancer myths focus on the supposed causes of the disease. Your friends and family members have the best intentions when they give you information. But, not everything you hear is true. So it always better to seek medical care from a doctor and stay healthy!
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