Busting Breast Cancer Myths

There are plenty of rumors about what causes breast cancer floating around on the internet and in emails from friends, but be careful what you believe. Check out these common myths about breast cancer and the truth behind them.

Myth: Most breast lumps are cancerous.

Truth: Actually almost 80 percent of lumps are found to be benign (non-cancerous). However, breast cancer can be present without a lump. “Aside from feeling a lump, women should look for other changes in their breasts, such as skin dimpling, nipple retraction, redness or scaling of the nipple, bloody or clear nipple discharge or pinpoint breast pain,” says Antoinette Cortese, MD, board-certified Radiologist with fellowship training in breast imaging and intervention. “Even if a patient has had a recent screening mammogram, she should contact her physician if she notices any of these changes. Additional specialized mammographic views or an ultrasound may be needed to evaluate these signs.”

Myth: Only women with a family history are at risk for the disease.

Truth: “Almost 70 percent of women with breast cancer had no known risk factors,” says Betsy Card, MD, board-certified Diagnostic Radiologist, fellowship trained in CT, ultrasound and mammography. “However, risk factors do include family history, especially if a first degree relative, such as your mother, sister or daughter has had premenopausal breast cancer.”

Myth: Radiation from mammograms causes cancer.

Truth: Mammograms result in a small dose of radiation exposure which is regulated by the FDA to minimize patient risk. The benefits of  mammography for early detection heavily outweigh the risks. “Screening mammograms allow us to detect breast cancer in the earliest stages, before an outward sign, such as a lump, could be noticed,” says Dr. Card. “Early detection is critical to catching the disease when it’s most curable.”

Myth: Breast cancer is something only older women have to think about.

Truth: While the American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms begin at age 40, younger women need to be aware of signs and symptoms, particularly if family history indicates they could be at greater risk. “If a first-degree relative had premenopausal breast cancer, you should have a mammogram 10 years prior to the age that relative was diagnosed,” recommends Dr. Cortese. If a close female relative has had breast or ovarian cancer, younger women may want to speak with a physician about being tested for a BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene mutation, which could indicate up to an 8% risk for these cancers. If the genes are discovered before cancer develops, options are available to better mitigate cancer risk.

 Myth: Antiperspirants cause breast cancer

Truth: There have been no tests that prove this theory. Some studies have found parabens, which are used in some deodorants, in breast cancer tumors, but there is no definitive proof of their origin.

If you have questions about breast cancer, refer to the American Cancer Society website or call your physician. For more information about breast cancer treatment at the Carson Tahoe Cancer Center, click here.