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More Breast Cancer Myths Debunked

October 17, 2014

In the heart of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, one can’t help but notice the tremendous efforts that are taking place all around us. From pink cleats and gloves on the football field to neighborhood rallies and fundraisers, people all across the country have come together to help shed light on this disease that affects 1 in 8 women.

The reality is, despite these wonderful efforts, many women still have misconceptions about breast cancer. While almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by the disease, a general lack of understanding remains.

Earlier this month, I highlighted the need for increased knowledge about breast cancer, and shared about the disease. The response was tremendous, and it got me thinking about some additional questions that I commonly hear from women.

So, here are nine more common myths—and real facts—about breast cancer.

Myth: Birth control pills cause breast cancer

Fact: While some studies have shown a slightly increased risk for breast cancer in women who used certain forms of birth control pills, others have proven inconclusive or inconsistent. The fact is, modern day birth control pills have a relatively low dose of hormones, and present little to no risk. Some birth control pills may even protect against ovarian cancer.

Myth: A breast cancer diagnosis is an automatic death sentence

Fact: The overall five-year survival rate for breast cancer is more than 95 percent. Newer treatment options have made breast cancer a chronic disease that women live with for long periods of time.

Myth: If a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she will lose her breast

Fact: All women who are diagnosed will have some kind of surgery. Most can have a breast-conserving surgery called a lumpectomy, followed by radiation therapy. However, if there is a lot of cancer, a large tumor or other risk factors, then you may need a mastectomy. Fortunately, advances in plastic and reconstructive surgery provide more options than ever before when it comes to restoring the natural appearance of the breasts.

Myth: I'm at high risk for breast cancer and there's nothing I can do about it

Fact: There are several effective ways to reduce your risk. Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is one of them. Other ways to reduce breast cancer risk include surgical approaches such prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, in which at least one breast is removed, and prophylactic oophorectomy, which involves removal of both ovaries.

Myth: Breast cancer is contagious

Fact: This is simply not true.Breast cancer does not spread from one person to another.

Myth: All breast lumps are cancerous

Fact: About 80 percent of lumps are benign, or non-cancerous. Fibrosis and cysts can both cause changes in the shape or feel of a woman’s breast, including firmness, tenderness and lumpiness. Though these conditions may be painful, they may not necessarily be breast cancer. Still, it is important to see your doctor if you notice a lump or experience abnormal changes in your breast.

Myth: If your lymph nodes are removed during breast cancer surgery, your arm will be swollen for life

Fact: Some women will develop a condition called lymphedema, which causes swelling in the arm, after having their lymph nodes removed during breast cancer surgery. However, the chances of this happening are relatively low—around 5 to 10 percent. Thankfully, advances in treatment for lymphedema, including a procedure called vascularized lymph node transfer, have improved the quality of life of many who experience this condition. If you have any swelling after breast cancer surgery, contact your doctor right away.

Myth: A woman with lumpy breasts is more likely to get breast cancer

Fact: Fibrocystic breast is a benign condition that is common in young women. Only about 20 percent of women in the U.S. who have a biopsy for a suspicious lump are actually diagnosed with breast cancer.

Myth: Breast cancer surgery opens up the cancer to the air and makes it spread

Fact: Clinical studies have proven this untrue. According to the American Cancer Society, this is a common misconception because doctors may find more cancer during surgery than they initially thought was present, leading some people to believe that the cancer spread during the procedure.  However, there is no scientific evidence of this, so delaying surgery for this reason could be harmful to your treatment.

We’ve come a long way in the fight against breast cancer, but every day there’s more work to be done. Knowledge is critical to early detection and survival. I hope every woman—and man—reading this blog feels more empowered to talk openly and ask questions about breast cancer.