One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. WVU Cancer Institute oncologist Inderjit Mehmi, MD, highlights some of the common misconceptions about breast cancer to keep you be more informed about the disease, diagnosis, and treatment options.
Myth: Most breast lumps are cancerous.
Most lumps are caused by benign (noncancerous) changes, cysts, or other conditions in women’s breasts. If you find a persistent lump in your breast or notice any changes in breast tissue, you should never ignore it. See a physician for a clinical breast exam. Your doctor may possibly order breast imaging studies to determine if a lump is cancerous or not.
Myth: Finding a lump is the only noticeable sign of breast cancer.
Other symptoms of breast cancer may include nipple discharge, breast swelling, scaliness, or a lump in the underarm area. It’s vital for you to be familiar with your body, so you can notice any concerning changes. Be in charge of your health with breast self-exams, ask your doctor any questions you might have, and have an annual clinical breast exam and a routine screening mammogram.
Myth: Young women don't get breast cancer.
Though the disease is most commonly found in women age 50 and older, breast cancer can affect people of any age. It's a good idea to perform monthly self-breast exams starting at age 20, have a clinical exam by a doctor every three years, and talk to your doctor about beginning screening mammograms at age 40.
Myth: Men don't get breast cancer.
Although it is less common in men than in women, breast cancer can affect anyone. More than 2,000 cases of male breast cancer are diagnosed in the US every year. Warning signs men should look for include nipple discharge, lumps, swelling, skin dimpling, or puckering.
Myth: I don't need a mammogram if there is no history of breast cancer in my family.
Having a first-degree family member (parent, sibling, or child) with breast cancer doubles your risk, but you can get the disease without any family history. Women with an average risk of breast cancer should start getting a screening mammogram at age 40. WVU Medicine offers 3D mammography, which detects breast tumors with clearer images and fewer additional tests.
Myth: In terms of survival, removing the entire breast is the best option.
Having a mastectomy, or completely removing your breast(s), is usually not more effective than a lumpectomy, where only the cancerous cells are removed. It may seem logical that if breast cancer is found, removing the breast is likely to be a lifesaving treatment. Once you know the pros and cons for each treatment for your type of breast cancer and your situation, the choice is a personal one. Clinical trials have shown that mastectomy and lumpectomy with radiation have the same result for mortality in most cases. If your doctor advocates for one or the other, ask questions and educate yourself to make the best decision for you.
Myth: Once my cancer is removed with surgery, I don’t need any other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation.
Surgeons aim to remove all of the cancer, but breast cancer is a complex disease, and surgery alone is usually not enough to treat it effectively. There are certain situations where radiation or chemotherapy may be avoided, but this decision should be made with the assistance of an appropriate cancer provider. Without the addition of radiation therapy, the chances of cancer recurrence are high. With recent advancements, some patients can be treated with intraoperative radiation therapy, which offers the convenience of surgery and radiation on the same day.
Learn more: WVUMedicine.org/cancer