There are more than 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S., and about 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. This means most of us probably know at least one woman who has been affected by breast cancer. While it is important that there continues to be a high level of awareness around breast cancer, with so much information out there it is easy to get the facts about breast cancer mixed up with the rumors.
Below we’ve broken down some of the top breast cancer myths, and explained the realities behind them.
- Myth: Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer.
Reality: Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. However, no lump should go ignored. If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or notice any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a physician for a clinical breast exam.
Take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, getting an annual clinical breast exam, and scheduling your routine screening mammograms.
- Myth: Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer.
Reality: Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have not been able to draw any conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer.
- Myth: Men do not get breast cancer; it affects women only.
Reality: Each year it is estimated that approximately 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 410 will die. While this percentage is still small, men should also check themselves periodically by doing a breast self-exam while in the shower and reporting any changes to their physicians. Men carry a higher mortality than women do, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment.
- Myth: If I get a mammogram, I do not need to do a self-breast exam
Reality: The best way to know if there are changes to your breast is to check yourself regularly, preferably the week after your menstrual cycle. Check particularly for breast lumps that may feel hard, like a frozen pea or lima bean.
It’s important to also understand that mammograms aren’t perfect. Up to 15 percent of women have false negative mammograms; cancer may be present even if the mammogram is normal. Knowing your breasts can play a critical role in the early detection of breast cancer, even when you also have annual screening mammograms.
- Myth: If I have a family history of breast cancer, I will get breast cancer too.
Reality: While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Statistically only about 10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of this disease. If you have a mother, daughter, or sister who developed breast cancer below the age of 50, you should consider some form of regular diagnostic breast imaging starting 10 years before the age of your relative’s diagnosis. If you have had a grandmother or aunt who was diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk increases slightly, but it is not in the same risk category as those who have a first degree relative with breast cancer.
Sources: The National Cancer Institute and The Cleveland Clinic.