Common breast cancer myths debunked
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time devoted to educating the public about breast cancer symptoms to promote early detection and understanding of this disease. Except for skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women — one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Luckily, breast cancer has a high survival rate when caught early enough.
There is a ton of information about breast cancer floating around on the internet, but not all of it is clear or accurate. Here are seven common myths about breast cancer and the truth behind them:
1. MYTH: You won’t develop breast cancer unless it runs in your family
Truth: Over two-thirds of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. That being said, the risk may increase if your family history includes close relatives who had breast and/or ovarian cancer, multiple generations with breast and/or ovarian cancer on the same side of the family, and close relatives who developed breast cancer at a young age.
It’s vital that all women get mammograms regularly starting as early as age 40. Talk to your doctor for more information and to get scheduled for an exam if you are eligible.
2. MYTH: Breast cancer always causes a lump you can feel
Truth: Many believe breast cancer will cause a lump you can feel during a self-exam. But breast cancer doesn’t always cause a lump, especially early on. That’s why it’s crucial never to skip routine mammograms — remember that performing breast self-exams is never a substitute for regular screening with mammography.
3. MYTH: Breast cancer only happens to older women
Truth: While being female and growing older are the main risk factors for developing breast cancer, about four percent (or one in 25 cases) of invasive breast cancers were diagnosed in women under age 40. Women of all ages should pay attention to their breasts and report any unusual changes to their doctors.
4. MYTH: Men can't get breast cancer
Truth: Breast cancer is rare in men, but it does happen. Though men don’t have breasts, they have breast tissue. Male breast cancer accounts for less than one percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S., but it tends to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage. Changes in male breasts should be checked out, too.
5. MYTH: If you have the BRCA gene, you’ll get breast cancer
Truth: Everyone has the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but some mutations in genes, including these, can be passed down in families and increase the risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Up to 10 percent of people diagnosed with breast cancer carry this mutation. Not every woman with a strong family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer has a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, and not everyone with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations will develop cancer.
6. MYTH: Mammograms don’t save lives
Truth: Mammograms save lives by finding breast cancer early when treatment is most successful. But mammograms aren’t foolproof — cancer can still develop in between screenings. That’s why it’s essential to get mammogram screenings regularly and conduct breast self-exams each month.
7. MYTH: Breast implants increase your risk of breast cancer
Truth: Research demonstrates that women with breast implants are at no greater risk of getting breast cancer than women without them. However, breast implants can make it harder to read mammograms, so additional X-rays are sometimes needed to examine breast tissue thoroughly.
1. "Breast Cancer Myths versus Facts," BreastCancer.org, n.d.
2. “The Truth Behind 8 Common Breast Cancer Myths,” Aetna, n.d.