One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Think of all the women in your life: you, your mother, your sister, your friends… it’s hard to imagine that you, or some of them, may be stricken with this dreadful disease. But in spite of the fear there is hope, as more and more women are being diagnosed early enough to fully treat the cancer and make a full recovery, continuing to live out their lives, raise their children, enjoy their grandchildren. It’s so important to know how best to detect cancer early enough to save your life — because even a couple of weeks can mean such a big difference, the difference between life and death. If you’re over 40, you ought to have an annual mammogram, and if you’re over 20, you ought to be doing an accurate monthly self breast exam, with a clinical exam at least every three years. But it’s also important to know the difference between valid, helpful information, and myth, because being well-informed is an excellent weapon in the fight against this disease, too. Here are 7 breast cancer myths, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October)…
1. Only Women Can Have It
This isn’t true at all. Men can also develop breast cancer, as can women (like me) with a less-than-ample chest… even cats and dogs can have breast cancer! So if your husband or boyfriend develops a lump, something that’s new, they ought to have their doctor look at it, just as you would. In fact, 500 men die of breast cancer in the U.S. each year… it’s serious…
2. Family History Means Everything
This isn’t completely true. While having a family history of breast cancer can mean more of a risk for you, fewer than 20% of women who develop breast cancer have a family member that’s also been stricken with it. It’s important to know that your risk is increased, so you’re more inclined to remember to do your monthly self-exam, and to get your annual mammogram, but family history isn’t a death sentence.
3. A Lump Always Means Cancer
This isn’t true at all. Some women have naturally cyst-prone or less-than-smooth breast tissue, so sometimes, a lump doesn’t mean anything scary at all. The only way to know for sure, and to get peace of mind, is to report a new or changing lump to your doctor right away, even if you’ve been told in the past that your breasts may be prone to cysts.
4. Cancerous Lumps Feel Different than Benign Lumps
This can be true, but it’s important to know that some breast cancer tumors or lumps feel exactly the same as the ones that are harmless, or benign. It’s vital to report any new or changing lumps to your doctor right away, even if you think it feels harmless.
5. African American Women Have It More, but White Women Die More Often
Actually, the reverse is true. For many reasons, white women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but African American women are more likely to die from it.
6. The Pill Can Give You Breast Cancer
For women over 45 years of age, this may be true, but since modern birth control pills contain much lower doses of hormones, it’s not as likely to cause cancer in younger women, or women who have started taking the Pill more recently. Also, it’s worth noting that taking the Pill may reduce your risk of developing ovarian or colorectal cancer.
7. If You Develop Breast Cancer, You Must Have a Mastectomy
This is also not true, although in some cases, it is indeed necessary. Depending on the stage of breast cancer, your oncologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer) may recommend chemotherapy, radiation, hormone or biological therapy, a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, or any combination of these. A diagnosis of breast cancer, especially if it’s made early enough, doesn’t always mean you’ll lose the breast.
Let me stress again how important it is to confront this disease with knowledge… and now that you know these things are all myths, you can move forward with confidence, doing your monthly self-exam and checking in with your doctor when there’s any change. And if you’re over 40, don’t forget your annual mammogram! Someday, hopefully soon, breast cancer will be cured, and my favorite color can go back to being just a color, not a symbol of the fight. Until then, do you have any other breast cancer myths or facts to share?
Top Photo Credit: stereotypt