10 Greatest Myths About Breast Cancer

reconstruction-after-breast-cancerWhat Every Woman Needs To Know To Protect Her Health
Early detection is the best protection. Breast cancer found early can usually be treated successfully.

Myth 1: Young women don't get breast cancer

  • Breast cancer can occur at any age
  • Risk increases with age
  • 1 out of 2,212 breast cancer diagnoses will be a 30-year-old woman
A woman's chance of breast cancer Increases with age:
  • By age 30 - 1 out of 2,212
  • By age 40 - 1 out of 235
  • By age 50 - 1 out of 54
  • By age 60 - 1 out of 23
  • By age 70 - 1 out of 14
  • By age 80 - 1 out of 10
  • Ever -1 out of 8

Myth 2: A negative mammogram means you don't have breast cancer

  • 10 - 15% of breast cancers are missed on mammography
  • Some lumps can only be felt and not seen on mammography because of the density of the lump
  • 26% of cancers detected last year were found on mammography as calcifications


  • A mammogram needs to be coupled with a yearly clinical breast exam and a monthly breast self-exam
  • A clinical exam may find changes in the breast that would require additional evaluation with other screening tests such as ultrasound or dedicated breast MRI

Myth 3: Finding a lump is the only way a woman can detect breast cancer

  • Some cancers don’t form a lump
  • A visual exam of the breasts can often show symptoms that need to be reported to a healthcare provider

Other symptoms include:

  • Discharge from one breast
  • Inversion of a normally everted nipple
  • Dimpling-a pulling in of the breast skin
  • Bulge-area of raised tissues on one breast
  • Itching, irritated or scaly nipple with/without discharge
  • Rapidly increasing pain with redness or rash
  • Rapid increase in size of one breast
  • Changes in the shape of a breast
  • Change in vein patterns on one breast

Myth 4: No history of breast cancer in your family means you never have to worry about having it

  • All women are at risk
  • Last year, 76% of women diagnosed with breast cancer had no family history of breast cancer
  • The greatest risk is being female

Myth 5: A mother's family history of breast cancer is the only important history

  • A father’s history is equally important
  • Hereditary breast cancer is caused by inheriting a mutated gene from either your father or mother
  • History needs to include the previous two generations because hereditary breast cancer can skip a generation

Myth 6: The most important risk factor is the number of relatives who have had breast cancer

  • Age of occurrence is more important than the number of relatives diagnosed
  • Early age of diagnosis is a red flag for hereditary breast cancer
  • Equally important is a family history of ovarian cancer or having bilateral cancer (both breasts)
  • A relative having both breast and ovarian cancer is highly suspicious for hereditary breast cancer

Myth 7: Breast cancer should be removed immediately before it spreads

  • Most cancers 1 cm in size have been in the breast for 8 - 10 years when detected
  • Breast cancer starts when one cell becomes malignant and begins a doubling process that continues until it reaches a size that can be detected by breast exam or on a mammogram
  • Doubling process ranges from 29 to 220 days
  • Breast cancer is not usually a medical emergency, with the exception of inflammatory breast cancer

Myth 8: All breast cancer patients receive the same treatment

  • There are 15 different types of breast cancer
  • Each type can vary greatly in aggressiveness of growth
  • There is no longer a cookie-cutter approach to treatment as there was years ago
  • Every woman’s cancer is uniquely unique
  • Treatments are designed from careful study of:
    • Tumor type
    • Size
    • Spread of cancer to other sites
    • Individual characteristics of cancer
    • Age and general health
  • Surgery
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy


  • Lumpectomy
  • Mastectomy - With or without reconstruction
Radiation Therapy
Adjuvant Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
    • Neoadjuvant
    • Post-surgical
  • Hormonal therapy

Myth 9: Breast cancer is the number one enemy of women

  • The number one enemy is NOT breast cancer but the late detection of breast cancer
  • Breast cancer detected early can usually be treated successfully

Myth 10: High risk women can't do anything about their risks

  • High risk women because of family history or an identified carrier of the breast cancer gene can do something about their risks
  • Stop smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Exercise
  • Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet
  • Get a mammogram on a recommended schedule
  • Have clinical exams regularly
  • Ask your physician about talking with a genetic counselor
Genetic Testing: Who Should Be Tested?
  • Individuals with a personal or family history of breast cancer before age 50 or ovarian cancer at any age
  • Individuals with two or more primary diagnoses of breast and/or ovarian cancer
  • Individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent with a personal or family history of breast cancer before age 50 or ovarian cancer at any age
  • Male breast cancer patients

BRCA1 or BRCA2 Testing

  • For genetic testing, a blood sample is drawn and sent to a lab to see if an inherited, mutated gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2) is present DNA is present in all body cells
  • Test person with cancer first if possible
  • The mutated gene can come from the mother or father
How are people tested?
  • Blood test - DNA in every cell in body
  • Test person with cancer first if possible - Testing of relatives to determine if they carry gene if person with cancer test positive
Women who test positive for hereditary breast cancer are offered:
  • High risk surveillance
  • Chemoprevention
  • Prophylactic surgery

High Risk Surveillance

  • Monthly breast self-exams starting at age 18 to 21 and annual or semiannual clinical breast exams, beginning between ages 25 to 35
  • Yearly mammography or dedicated breast MRI beginning between ages 25 to 35
  • Annual or semiannual transvaginal ultrasound and testing for CA-125 to detect ovarian cancer beginning between the ages of 25 to 35
  • Drugs such as Tamoxifen may significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer in women with BRCA mutations
  • Oral contraceptives have been associated with up to a 60% reduction in the risk of ovarian cancer in women with BRCA mutations when taken for six or more years
Prophylactic Surgery
  • Prophylactic mastectomy reduces the risk of breast cancer by at least 90% in women with BRCA mutations
  • Prophylactic oophorectomy reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 96% and simultaneously reduces the risk of breast cancer by approximately 50 percent in women with BRCA mutations

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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