There are various myths about breast cancer that are addressed in this section.
Fact: If you find a lump in your breast, there is no need to panic. Only a small percentage of these lumps turn out to be cancerous. However, if you discover a persistent lump in your breast, or notice any changes in the breast tissue, it should never be ignored. Your first step should be visiting a physician and getting a clinical breast examination done. The physician may further advise you to undergo breast imaging studies, to help determine if this lump is of any concern. You should take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, frequently communicating with your doctor, getting a clinical breast exam done every year, and routinely scheduling and undergoing mammogram screenings.
Fact: Bra or underwired bra does not cause breast cancer.
Fact: According to National Breast Cancer Foundation, researchers are not aware of any conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer. So go ahead and use your ‘Yardley’ without worry on your ‘Skinn’, as this definitely ‘Axe’s the myth.
Fact: Injuries to the breast do not cause breast cancer.
Fact: Breastfeeding does not prevent breast cancer, but it reduces the risk of getting breast cancer.
Fact: A mammogram or X-ray of the breast, is the gold standard test you undergo for early detection of breast cancer. While this test can be slightly uncomfortable, breast compression during this procedure cannot cause cancer to spread. While it is also understandable that one would be worried about the radiation exposure, the benefits of mammography always outweigh the potential harm from X-rays. Moreover, mammograms require very small doses of radiation and the risk of harm from its exposure is extremely low. So now that you know that a mammogram does not cause breast cancer, when should you get it done? The standard recommendation is an annual mammographic screening for women, beginning at age 40. It is important to keep in mind that you base your decision on your physician’s recommendation and that you discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your physician.
Fact: While mammography can cause momentary discomfort, it is not painful. It involves only a tiny dose of radiation, but the risk to your overall health is insignificant. In fact, the radiation dose delivered during mammography is the same as that of a dental X-ray.
Fact: According to Association of Breast Surgeons of India, Full Field Digital Mammography has revolutionised early detection of breast cancer. Why? There are several advantages to it including lower radiation, lesser discomfort and most importantly, better accuracy, particularly in young women with dense breasts. It is efficient in detecting early and subtle symptoms of the disease.
Fact: A woman should undergo mammography when she is around 40 years, as is the recommendation everywhere, and continue to get a mammography done once every year after the age of 40.
If there is a strong family history, then the mammogram should be done annually and ultrasound and clinical examination should be done once in every 6 months. In India, most breast cancers happen at a very early age, around 40-45 years, and it is therefore considered ideal for a woman in India to undergo screening with an ultrasound after 35 years of age.
Fact: While it is important for women of all ages to be aware of breast cancer, breast cancer screening is effective in women only over the age of 40 years. For women under 40, routine breast screening, especially without symptoms is not effective.
Fact: It is estimated that each year approximately 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 410 will die. While this percentage is still small, men should not take breast cancer lightly. They should check themselves periodically by doing a breast self-exam while in the shower. If they notice any changes, they should report it to their physicians immediately. But how does one know what changes to report? Breast cancer in men is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and. And why should these changes be of concern? Men have 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.
Fact: Although a majority of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50 in the Western world, it can, in fact, occur at any age. In fact, a majority of breast cancer patients in India are diagnosed with the disease are under 50.
Fact: While it is true that women who have a family history of breast cancer are at a higher risk of getting the disease, it is also true that most women who have breast cancer have no family history of the disease. Statistically, only 10% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history.
So what should you do if you have a family history of this disease? That depends on your relation to that particular family member.
If you have a first-degree relative with breast cancer, that is, if your mother, sister or daughter developed breast cancer under the age of 50, you should consider some form of regular diagnostic breast imaging. When should you consider it? Starting ten years before the age of your relative’s diagnosis. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer.
If you have a second-degree relative with breast cancer, such as a grandmother or an aunt, your risk increases slightly, however, definitely not as much if you had a first-degree relative with breast cancer.
If you have multiple generations diagnosed with breast cancer on the same side of the family, or if there are several individuals who are first-degree relatives to one another, or several family members diagnosed at the age of 50, you should be careful, as you have an increased probability of having a breast cancer gene, given your breast cancer-prone family history.
Fact: The National Cancer Institute, referring to families who are known to carry BRCA1 or BRCA2, says “not every woman in such families carries a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, and not every cancer in such families is linked to a harmful mutation in one of these genes. Furthermore, not every woman who has a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will develop breast and/or ovarian cancer. But, a woman who has inherited a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is about five times more likely to develop breast cancer than a woman who does not have such a mutation.”
So, you may be at higher risk, but you may not develop breast cancer.