Breast Cancer Myths
Breast cancer myths — we’ve all heard them. From claims that breast cancer is caused by your bra to more convoluted claims that mammograms are useless, myths are running rampant. Some people still don’t know that men can get breast cancer! (It’s true, they can.)
Some myths are half truth, half skewed facts. Let us set the record straight. Read on to get the skinny on what can cause breast cancer, what your risk is, and the best ways to diagnose.
Myth #1: Breast cancer is mostly genetic. If there’s no history in my family, my chances of getting it are low.
Myth. Only about 5% to 10% of breast cancers are the fault of a gene mutation, which means that 90% of breast cancers are not genetic.
Myth #2: Everyone with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation will get cancer.
Myth. While the presence of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation can increase your chance of getting breast cancer by about five times, it doesn’t guarantee that you will get the disease. There are other gene mutations that also carry risks (though to a lesser extent).
Myth #3: About 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer.
True — but it’s important to note that age plays a role. A woman has a 1 in 8 chance of developing cancer in her lifetime, yes. However, that risk increases as you age. So a woman in her 20s has a 1 in 233 chance, and that rises to 1 in 8 by the time she hits 85.
Myth #4: The best way to find out if you have breast cancer is by self-checks.
Half-truth. It’s helpful to know what your breasts look and feel like. Did you know that 80% to 85% of the lumps that you feel are benign? That’s great news — unless you’re easily prone to anxiety. So while it’s important to be familiar with your breasts and be on the lookout for any new lumps, if you do feel one, don’t panic. The American Cancer Society states that women should know how their breasts look and feel starting in their 20s — but that self breast exams (SBEs) are only an option, not a necessity.
Myth #5: Mammograms Are The Best — Or Worst — Way To Detect Breast Cancer.
They’re certainly helpful — based on certain factors. After mammography was introduced in the U.S., mammograms were praised for helping double the amount of early-stage breast cancer diagnoses, as well as decreasing the rate of women who present with late stages of the disease by 8%. According to the American Cancer Association, mammography detects about 80%-90% of breast cancers in women who show no symptoms. When to start screening, how often to do it, and how many lives are actually saved is where it gets tricky.
According to a study published by the New England Journal Of Medicine that looked at diagnostic trends of women over age 40 from 1976 through 2008, breast cancer was over-diagnosed in more than 70,000 women in 2008 — which accounted for 31% of all breast cancers diagnosed that year. Whoa.
In 2014, a study in the British Medical Journal found that the mortality rate was the same in women who had yearly mammograms as women who had yearly breast exams. In fact, they found that mammograms could be harmful, as “1 in 424 women who had mammograms received unnecessary cancer treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.”
On the flip side, a Dutch study published in 2011 showed that women between the ages of 50 and 75 who had a minimum of three mammograms through the Netherlands national screening programs before they were diagnosed with breast cancer reduced their risk of dying from breast cancer by almost 50%. The screening happens every two years beginning at age 50 and is free.
Bottom line: It can be helpful based on your age, history, and preference. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends that women ages 50 to 74 get biannual screenings, women ages 40 to 49 should discuss with their doctor and determine for themselves; and women over 75, well — current evidence is insufficient. They don’t recommend against screening for women under 50; rather, they emphasize that it’s an individual decision. The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms for women age 45 to 54, with one mammogram every two years after that. They say women should also be aware of what their breasts normally feel and look like starting in their 20s. These recommendations exclude women who have genetic risks of the disease, a high risk based on family history, and certain other factors.
Myth #6: Everyone should get MRI’s! Don’t I need an MRI?
Myth. MRI’s can be beneficial for women with dense breasts or women with a higher risk, in conjunction with a mammogram. MRI’s don’t dish out any radiation and are sensitive to detecting breast cancer — but they also lead to more false positives than mammograms.
Myth #7: Having a double mastectomy makes it impossible for you to get breast cancer again.
Myth. While a prophylactic (or preventative) double mastectomy does reduce your risk by 90% (woo!) and a double mastectomy after diagnosis also reduces your risk of recurrence, you’re still not totally in the clear. The cancer could come back at the site of your surgery, or it could spread to other parts of your body. Most recurrences in women who have already had breast cancer occur within the first five years after diagnosis.
Myth #8: Bras Cause Cancer.
Myth. Even underwire? Yes, even underwire.
Myth #9: Deodorant Or Antiperspirants Cause Cancer.
Myth #10: The age you start your period or when you go through menopause affects your risk.
Surprisingly, true. Women who start their periods before 12 have a higher risk than those who start after 14. Scientists think the risk involved with early periods is due to the earlier and longer-lasting presence of estrogen in your body. In the same vein, going through menopause after age 55 also increases your risk.