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Five Common Breast Cancer Myths & Facts
It's one of the better-known and more talked-about cancers...but it's surprising how much misinformation is out there. What we think we know may not always be accurate,
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 34, one of the first questions almost everyone asked me was this:
Does breast cancer run in your family??
And I can’t lie: I even asked myself the very same question.
Neither my mother, grandmother nor anyone in my family has or ever had breast cancer, so how in the world did I get it??
But since then, I’ve learned a lot. In fact, I believe if it weren’t for my diagnosis, I would not have become a health writer years later. My diagnosis spurred my curiosity and desire to learn as much as I could about health; both for myself and for others. Since that time, I’ve published hundreds of articles and essays on breast cancer.
Health and medical myths abound, from COVID to cancer. Knowing the facts can save your health. Below, some of the more common myths about breast cancer.
Myth: If breast cancer doesn’t run in your family, your risk is low.
Truth: Family history is just one of the facts about breast cancer so many of us get wrong. We think that breast cancer is an inherited disease.
But only about five to ten percent of breast cancers are due to heredity. (That means they’re caused by mutations in certain genes passed from parent to child.) BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the two most common mutations, but there are many more.
In my quest to find a reason and protect my own children, I had genetic testing, which did not reveal a genetic mutation. The reason I got breast cancer may never be known, as is the case for so many women.
But that’s not to say you can’t work to lower your risk of breast cancer.
Myth: If you exercise, eat right and maintain a healthy weight, you won’t get breast cancer.
Truth: I did all of the above (and then some), yet I still became a statistic. And I know many women who lead very healthy lives who, despite a stellar lifestyle, have been diagnosed. While evidence points to healthy living as a way to minimize your risk, it’s no guarantee. Unfortunately, most of the causes of breast cancer are outside our control.
Still, that doesn’t give you reason to go out and abandon all your good health habits. Exercise is thought to regulate hormones, including estrogen and insulin, both of which can fuel the growth of breast cancer. And keeping your weight within healthy limits also helps keep those hormones under check, as well as keeping your immune system strong. Limiting alcohol consumption is another breast-healthy habit to follow.
Myth: If there’s no lump you can feel, then you’re free of breast cancer.
Truth: Many women rely only self-exams, and when they don’t feel anything, they don’t look any further. But breast cancer does not always cause a lump - especially in the beginning.
What’s dangerous about this misconception is that by the time the cancer does develop into a lump you can feel, it might have moved beyond the breast into the lymph nodes.
Breast self-exam is a good idea, but it’s no substitute for a mammogram.
Myth: If you have a lump that’s not painful, that’s a good sign - it’s not breast cancer.
Truth: A lump is a lump. Whether it’s not painful or it’s smooth or it’s movable, (other myths that say you’re in the clear), you need to get any lump that can be felt under the skin checked out. Every lump should be treated as suspicious.
Myth: Breast cancer is only a risk for middle-aged or younger women.
Truth: While age is a risk factor, breast cancer can happen at any age - even to women in their 20s. Yes, it’s not as common, but altogether possible.
Which means: No matter how young you are, you need to pay attention to your breasts - perform self-exams and see a healthcare professional for any changes. Women with a strong family history have to be even more vigilant. If their first-degree relative was diagnosed prior to age 40, they should probably start screenings sooner.
And the reason women is italicized above is that men can get breast cancer, too. Yes, it’s rare, accounting for just one percent of all cases diagnosed in the U.S., but it can and does happen. Men do have breast tissue, and any changes should be checked out.
For a Pause…
Women who have had breast cancer and are going through menopause might want to get relief from their menopause symptoms with hormone replacement therapy. But should they? The answer is here.
Lowering your risk of breast cancer is not just about healthy eating and exercise. There are other things to consider.
Genetic testing for certain mutations is widely available. But should you get it?
If you or someone you know is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, what you eat (or don’t eat) can make a difference in how you feel. Here’s an article I wrote for Everyday Health.
One More Thing
A Mammogram primer, up front and personal.
Thanks for reading thePause Newsletter with Sheryl Kraft! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.Until next time, stay well. Stay healthy. Stay safe.
And get your mammogram!!