Ten Common Breast Cancer Myths Debunked

Patient Expert

Expert Patient Beth Brophy recounts the tales you've heard again and again--and explains the real story.

Myth No. 1: Breast cancer is a death sentence.

The vast majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer display no signs of the cancer spreading beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes. Eighty percent of these women live five years, most of them longer, and new and promising treatments, such as the class of drugs known as aromatase inhibitors, are being discovered.

Myth No. 2: You don't need a mammogram until you're 50.

For several years, the medical community has debated whether the risks of over-diagnosis and over-treatment outweigh the benefits of mammography. Still, many medical professionals highly recommend that women get annual mammograms at age 40, or earlier if there are reasons for concern. Despite the controversy, mammography is the single best screening tool widely available for early detection. Speak frankly with your doctor to determine if and when you should be getting mammograms.

Myth No. 3: You only get breast cancer if you have a family history of the disease.

Every woman has some risk of developing breast cancer. About 80 percent of the women diagnosed have NO family history of the disease.

Myth No. 4: It's your fault.

Some people believe that you develop breast cancer from eating too much fat and not exercising enough. In reality, no one knows exactly what causes breast cancer. Several large studies have failed to demonstrate a clear connection between eating high-fat foods and a higher risk of breast cancer.

Myth No. 5: All breast cancer patients receive the same course of treatment.

The right treatment plan varies for each individual, even if the type of breast cancer appears similar. A variety of factors, including cancer stage, tumor size, type, estrogen receptors and age of patient, will play a role in determining the best treatment. Some women need surgery, radiation and months of chemotherapy; others may require only surgery.

Myth No. 6: Breast cancer is one disease.

Breast cancer is a name given to at least a half-dozen diseases, defined by more than just their location in the body. For instance, hormonal activity, genetics and a basal-type cancer are all forms of breast cancer.

Myth No. 7: Mastectomy is more effective than lumpectomy with radiation.

For women with breast cancer at one site, with a tumor smaller than 4 centimeters, and with clean margins achieved during the surgery, lumpectomy with radiation has been proven to be as effective as mastectomy.

Myth No. 8: Removing your lymph nodes will make your arm swollen forever.

Lymph node surgery can lead to discomfort, numbness and swelling, which is called lymphedema. However, proper care of the arm and physical therapy usually prevents it.

Myth No. 9: Using deodorant causes breast cancer.

There's no evidence that antiperspirants influence your risk of breast cancer.

Myth No. 10: Surgery releases cancer cells into the air and makes it spread.

Cancer that has spread to other parts of the body can be silent for a long time before it is discovered. The surgery doesn't cause it to spread.

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