Breast cancer is the most common cancer globally among women. Did you know that breast cancer is also the first leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women globally? Though it is a much-discussed topic, there are misconceptions and misinformation surrounding breast cancer. Let’s look at a few myths and facts about breast cancer.
Breast cancer was originally documented more than 3,500 years ago by ancient Egyptians.
Myth 1: People with no family history of breast cancer won’t get it
Fact: Only 5-10% of breast cancers are said to be hereditary caused by mutations of genes like BRCA-1 & BRCA-2. Women with a strong family history of breast cancer, especially first-line relatives like mothers, sister have an increased risk of getting breast cancer. However, majority of the women who have breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. There are many factors, apart from inherited genetic mutations that could cause breast cancer and sometimes there are cases where the doctor is unable to zero in on the exact cause. Being an older woman is the biggest risk factor.
Myth 2: Only women get breast cancer.
Fact: It is assumed that since men do not have breasts, they cannot get breast cancer. On the contrary, men do have breast tissues. Though breast cancer is rarer in men, they too can develop it. In men, breast cancer tends to be detected in the advanced stage and due to this, they carry a higher mortality rate than women. The lumps in the breast, changes in the nipple, are less likely to be assumed to be due to breast cancer in case, of men, due to lack of awareness.
Myth 3: One can avoid breast cancer by exercising, taking healthy diet and by avoiding alcohol & smoking.
Fact: Though being physically active, avoiding smoking and/or alcohol, decrease the risk of breast cancer, it does not completely eliminate the possibility of developing breast cancer. There is no particular way of preventing breast cancer. Certain factors that increase the risk and are beyond our control like genetic mutations, positive family history, early menarche, late menopause, age. However, we can try and reduce the risk factors that can be controlled by making healthy lifestyle choices and getting regular check-ups and mammograms done.
Myth 4: Wearing an underwired bra, using antiperspirants, underarm deodorants, keeping mobile phones in your chest pockets can cause breast cancer.
Fact: We get bombarded with theories of cell phone radiations, underarm deodorants, certain types of bras causing breast cancer. However, there is no substantial, conclusive evidence linking any of these to breast cancer so stop worrying about it.
Nevertheless, mobile phone manufacturers do recommend keeping the cell phones far from the body and we can practice that till more data is available from research.
Myth 5: Eating too much sugar causes breast cancer.
Fact: It is a said that cancer cells feed on sugar which in turn speeds up the growth of cancer cells. There is no scientific evidence linking sugar intake and breast cancer in humans. The increased sugar intake however leads to overweight and being overweight or obese is a risk factor for breast cancer. It is a healthy lifestyle habit to reduce sugar intake, avoid processed food with sugar in it and thereby reduce the risk of weight gain & associated problems.
Myth 6: Annual mammograms are sure to detect breast cancer at the earliest.
Fact: Mammograms are not foolproof techniques of diagnosis. Although they are quite sensitive, they can give false-negative results occasionally. Sometimes, it can so happen that a woman gets diagnosed with breast cancer a few months after mammogram or the breast cancer can grow and spread quickly within one year even after a true negative report. Though it is a relief after you see a negative in your mammogram report, it is still very important to regularly perform the monthly self-breast examinations & get yourself physically examined by your doctor every year.
Myth 7: Breast cancer will always be associated with lumps.
Fact: Breast cancer may not always cause lumps. Sometimes, by the time the lump appears, the cancer may have metastasized & spread already. So, not feeling a lump in your breast during the self-breast examination should not be a reason to skip the regular mammogram/ultrasound of the breast. There are also myths that if the lump is painless or if it appears movable & smooth under the skin, it is not breast cancer. But any case of any lump whether painful or painless must be taken seriously and evaluated by the doctor.
Myth 8: Breast cancer occurs in only middle-aged or older women.
Fact: It is seen that invasive breast cancer affects one in every 25 women under the age of 40. Although being an older-women increases the risk, this statistic shows that the risk is not completely eliminated in younger women under the age of 40. Hence, you should proactively examine your breasts regularly, perform regular check-ups irrespective of your age, family history or physical activity status.
Myth 9: The treatment of breast cancer remains the same irrespective of the type of breast cancer.
Fact: The treatment of breast cancer will be different for different women based on the characteristics of cancer. The different characteristics include:
- Size, stage, grade of cancer.
- How far has it metastasized.
- Genetic mutations like BRCA1 or BRCA2.
- The growth of cancer is fuelled by hormones like estrogen & progesterone.
- HER2 positive (overexpression of protein HER2).
The treatment for every woman is individualized keeping in mind the above-mentioned characteristics. Patients' preferences and the side effects are also taken into consideration while choosing the best treatment option. For women with HER2-positive breast cancer Trastuzumab is the targeted therapy. Hormonal treatments with tamoxifen will be required for women who are estrogen receptor (ER) and/or progesterone receptor (PR) positive. Apart from chemotherapy, radiation therapy, some women may also undergo removal of breasts (mastectomy) affecting discussing the pros and cons with their doctor.
Myth 10: Breast cancer can be completely cured with newer treatment options.
Fact: Since we don't have a complete understanding of the exact cause, progression of the disease, what can cause the recurrence of cancer; using the term 'cure' can be misleading. The good news is, statistics reveal that breast cancer mortality has reduced over the years and the improved outcome has been attributed to the newer treatments available. A woman may be 'cancer-free' for years or maybe for her lifetime after treatment. But more research and data are required to better understand the disease and its progression.
So, to summarize, be watchful, proactively take efforts to examine yourself & visit the doctor in case of suspicious symptoms. Let's be more aware of the truths of breast cancer, educate those around us and start having conversations to bust myths surrounding breast cancer.
The month of October is celebrated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month as an attempt for widespread awareness regarding breast cancer.
A pink ribbon is considered as a symbol of breast cancer awareness & was used on an international level in 1991. It symbolises the fight against breast cancer highlighting the hope for the future with the help of charitable goodness of corporates & people who publicly support the cause of this fight. A pink ribbon is meant to symbolise the solidarity of the general public with the women who are suffering from & fighting breast cancer.
For more information on Breast Health, please check our other videos.
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