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Breast Cancer: Sorting Fact from Fiction
Mar 31, 2021

Breast Cancer: Sorting Fact from Fiction

You may notice that there is a lot of information out there about breast cancer. While information can be helpful, it's important to know what is fact and what is fiction.

Understanding Breast Cancer

When breast cancer is caught early, five-year survival rate is 99%, according to the American Cancer Society. But breast cancer is not just one specific disease; it’s many different diseases, so it requires an individualized treatment plan.

“About 1 in 9 women will have breast cancer effect their life in some way,” says Willamette Valley Cancer Institute medical oncologist Dr. Keith Wells. “Each individual’s breast cancer is different and it affects them in different ways. Where the breast cancer is located, where it has spread, how big it is—all that plays a role in the different treatment options available.”

Breast cancer is often treated with surgery, as well as chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy or a combination of those treatments.

“When breast cancers are evaluated in the pathology lab, certain stains are added to them to look for the estrogen receptor and the progesterone receptor, as well as a receptor called HER2,” says Dr. Wells. “How a patient’s breast cancer expresses those proteins, determines which treatment we can offer them.”

Researchers are consistently working to find better ways to prevent, detect and treat breast cancer and to improve the quality of life of patients and survivors.

Separating Fact From Myth

When it comes to breast cancer, there’s a lot of mistruths. Does wearing deodorant or an underwire bra cause breast cancer? Could using a cell phone increase your risk of getting the disease? If you have a family history of the disease, does that mean you’re sure to be diagnosed, too? With all the information swirling online, it can be difficult to tell the difference between what is true and false.

Misinformation can influence whether or not you get breast cancer screenings or even talk to your doctor about certain symptoms. For the good of your health, it's important that we talk about some of the most common myths and the truth about breast cancer. 

Common Breast Cancer Myths 

Myth 1: You have to have a family history.

So often, people assume that you must have a family history to be worried about a breast cancer diagnosis. This simply is not true. In fact, most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. It's important to schedule your regular mammogram screenings even if nobody in your family has ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Myth 2: Mammograms will spread cancer.

Mammograms are used to detect cancer, not spread cancer. Along these same lines, women sometimes assume that the radiation levels from mammograms are harmful. However, the advances in mammogram technology have greatly reduced radiation levels so it is a safe procedure. 

Myth 3: Wearing a bra (or underwire) causes cancer.

There is absolutely no research that says that wearing a bra of any kind, including an underwire, causes breast cancer or even increases your risk. 

Myth 4: Deodorant causes breast cancer.

There is no supporting research that proves that deodorant causes breast cancer or increases your risk of developing it. 

Myth 5: Breast cancer kills women more than any other disease.

This false statistic is alarming to women who think that it's true. The truth is, more women die from lung cancer and heart disease than from breast cancer. However, it is important to know that over 200,000 people each year are diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though it's not the number one cause of death among women, it is reported that over 40,000 people will die from breast cancer each year. It's important to remain diligent about breast cancer screening and report any changes to your doctor as soon as possible. Early detection can make all of the difference. 

Myth 6: Breast cancer is always a lump you can feel.

A lump is one of the most common symptoms of breast cancer, but not all forms of breast cancer have a lump you can feel. For example, inflammatory breast cancer usually doesn't have a lump and may also be difficult to detect with a mammogram. 

Myth 7: Carrying your cell phone in your bra causes cancer.

This is another myth that you may be tempted to believe. There is no research that supports that carrying your cell phone in your bra causes cancer or increases your risk of cancer. 

Myth 8: If you carry the BRCA gene, you will get breast cancer.

Carrying the BRCA gene doesn't guarantee you will get breast cancer, but it can increase your risk. Women who test positive for the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene have a 45-65% chance of developing breast cancer before the age of 70. 

Myth 9: Only women get breast cancer.

While breast cancer is more common in women, men can also get breast cancer. Men have breast tissue, so therefore cancer can develop there. However, breast cancer in men is rare, with only 1% of breast cancer diagnoses being men. 

Myth 10: Breast cancer has become an epidemic in younger women.

Any woman can be at risk for developing breast cancer. However, 95% of breast cancer diagnoses belong to women over the age of 40. 

Myth 11: Silicone breast implants increase your risk of breast cancer.

While it's true that silicone breast implants may cause scarring on breast tissue, many studies have found that it does not increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

Get Your Mammogram 

There is a lot of misinformation buzzing around about breast cancer, but Dr. Wells says women and men can take charge of their health by performing routine breast self-exams and reporting anything abnormal to their doctor.

Talk with your health care provider about when you should begin routine mammograms. You may be advised to start screenings sooner if you have a family history of the disease.

However, the best thing you can do for your health is to make sure you're getting regular mammogram screenings. Doing so will help with early detection.

“If we detect a breast cancer early, we can treat it better,” Dr. Wells says.

If you're uninsured, check out this website for how you can still get your mammogram for an affordable price. 

Learn about the risk factors of breast cancer Originally published May 2018. Updated March 2021.

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