Breast Cancer: Fact vs. fiction
When your son is looking for his football jersey or your sister needs a reminder about your parents’ anniversary, you always have the right answers. But can you say the same about your breast health? If not, you’re in good company. A lot of women are missing the “right” answers. Jennifer Manders, M.D., breast surgeon with The Christ Hospital Surgical Oncology Associates, sets the record straight on some common breast cancer myths.
Myth: I don’t have to think about breast cancer until I’m 40.
Fact: Only five percent of all breast cancer cases occur in women younger than age 40, but it can strike at any age. Because young women don’t believe breast cancer can happen at a young age, it’s often found when it’s more advanced.
“Young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer also face unique challenges, such as concerns with their fertility, sexuality and pregnancy following treatment,” says Dr. Manders. “We have specific programs to support these women as part of their treatment plan.”
Myth: It’s hard to detect breast cancer during a breast self-exam.
Fact: Most women find their own breast cancers starting with breast self-exams when they’re performed correctly. If you perform them monthly, you’ll have a better understanding of your breast tissue and what’s normal. It’s important to start early and stick to a monthly schedule:
- In your 20s, learn what changes to look for and start perfecting the self-exam technique. Your doctor will also start clinical breast exams during your routine yearly physical.
- In your 30s, pay attention to how your breast tissue changes, especially during and after childbearing. Continue with monthly self-exams and talk to your doctor about your risk factors. It will help determine when to get a baseline mammogram.
- In your 40s, think of your annual mammogram as another milestone in taking care of you.
- In your 50s and beyond, be disciplined about your exams.
Myth: Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family, so I don’t have to worry about it.
Fact: Family history is just one risk factor for breast cancer. Age, ethnicity and lifestyle may also play a role. About 75 percent of women who get breast cancer have no family history or known risk factors. “Women should also let their doctor know about their lifestyle and their mother’s and father’s family history. Both sides of the family affect risk,” Dr. Manders says.
Myth: I had a negative mammogram; I don’t need another for a couple of years.
Fact: “Two years is an extremely long time to wait to get screened,” Dr. Manders says. “A lot can happen to your body over the course of a year. If you wait until you feel or see something abnormal, you might have a higher stage cancer than if it had been identified earlier.”
Myth: Ultrasounds are just as effective as mammograms, without the unnecessary radiation.
Fact: Ultrasounds use sound waves to emit images of the breast tissue, but can miss things deep within the tissue. “Ultrasounds also miss microcalcifications (tiny flecks of calcium), which may be an indication of early forms of breast cancer,” Dr. Manders says.
Mammograms are the only test proven to detect microscopic cancers in the earliest, most-treatable stages. Plus, if you’re worried about radiation, you should know you probably receive more of it going through the airport today than during your screening.
Myth: I have breast cancer. I’m going to die.
Fact: When found in its earliest stages, breast cancer is up to 100 percent treatable. Even if you’re diagnosed in later stages, survival rates are as high as 80 percent. “If you’re diagnosed, gather as much information as possible from trusted resources, like the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute, and stay as clear-headed as you can,” Dr. Manders recommends. “Find a doctor you trust and listen to their opinion. It’s okay to take some time to make decisions about treatment options.”
Women can also find breast cancer support services and groups throughout Greater Cincinnati, including several at The Christ Hospital.
If you're age-eligible or at higher risk for breast cancer, find a physician who can help schedule your mammogram by calling 877-904-4YOU or visit www.TheChristHospital.com.