10 Breast Cancer Myths Debunked


Whether it’s something you read online or in a magazine or heard from a friend of a friend, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Regarding what does and doesn’t cause breast cancer. Sramila Aithal, MD, a medical oncologist addresses the 10 most common myths associated with breast cancer risk. And breaks down what’s fact and fiction.

breast cancer myths

Myth #1: Breast cancer is always hereditary.

Breast cancer is hereditary in only about 5-10 percent of patients who carry an inherited mutation called BRCA genes. It accounts for an increased risk of breast cancer at an early age, Andis dependent on many variables including age, hormone factors, etc.  Other hereditary syndromes may also cause breast cancer but incidence is very low.

Myth #2: Only your mom’s history predicts your risk.

Family history is very important in both parents, which plays an equal role in your inherited risk for breast cancer. Lifetime risk of breast cancer is more common in women than in men, even for inherited forms.

Myth #3: Breast cancer will skip generations.

This is not true. Inherited BRCA mutations run in families and if one parent has it then there’s a 50 percent risk of inheritance of this mutation. This, in turn, increases the risk of breast cancer but it is also variable based on other characteristics such as age, gender, etc. There are also mutations or expressions besides BRCA mutations in other genes in a particular individual within a family.

Myth #4: With no family history of breast cancer, you can’t get it.

Breast cancer is one of the leading types of cancers in women and cause of mortality. The exact cause is unclear, but there are various risk factors based on your lifestyle, environmental factors, age, exposure to hormone estrogen, age at first birth, menopausal status, obesity, etc. In fact, all women are at risk.

Myth #5: There is nothing you can do to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer.

Wrong. Your risk for breast cancer may be assessed by a family physician based on certain factors including family history. If you have an increased risk for breast cancer, risk reduction methods may include using anti-estrogen hormone therapy, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol intake, limiting dosage and duration of hormones you’re taking for menopausal symptoms, maintaining weight, being physically active, etc.

Myth #6: Mammograms help prevent breast cancer.

A mammogram cannot prevent breast cancer, but it can detect breast cancer in its early stages. The earlier most breast cancers are detected and treated, the lower your risk of dying from the disease. The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for average-risk starting at age 40—or much earlier if there’s an increased risk for breast cancer.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), meanwhile, recommends routine screening of average-risk women starting at age 50 every two years. What’s the bottom line? Talk to your ob/gyn about what the best recommendation is for you. Your doctor will consider many things that influence your risk profile, including your weight, if you have dense breasts, your health history, family history, and lifestyle, including whether you exercise, drink or smoke. Of course, any time you experience a change in your breasts (nipple discharge, a lump, mottling of the skin), do not wait to have it checked out.

Myth #7: Your breast size could indicate a higher risk of breast cancer.

Your breast size isn’t known to increase your breast cancer risk, however a new study suggests that if you develop breast cancer, having larger breasts and being sedentary might increase your risk of dying from the disease. Other features like dense breast tissue or previous benign biopsies may also increase your risk for breast cancer.

Myth #8: You can catch breast cancer from your mom in utero or through her breast milk.

Breast cancer is not transmitted during pregnancy or through breast milk, but breast cancer may occur during pregnancy and postpartum, which may pose a big challenge in the way it’s managed depending on the stage of pregnancy. Chemotherapy medications may be excreted in breast milk and hence breastfeeding is not recommended during treatment for breast cancer.

Myth #9: Cell phones, antiperspirants, and tanning cause breast cancer.

There is no real conclusive evidence that use of cell phones or other agents mentioned above cause breast cancer. However, it’s good to be aware that some deodorants contain aluminum and may interfere with interpreting results of mammography.

Myth #10: A breast cancer diagnosis is an automatic death sentence.

False. Breast cancer can be diagnosed in its early stages and may respond well to treatment. Even recurrent breast cancers can be treated as a chronic disease based on its behavior and histology.

Definitely discuss your personal concerns/questions with your primary care physician about breast cancer. You have the innate gift of knowing exactly how your body functions and if you suspect something isn’t right act on that intuition.

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