Coffee with Komen – Debunking Breast Cancer Myths

by Carla Fisher, MD
Director of Breast Surgical Oncology
IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Using artificial sweetener, eating tofu and wearing deodorant have all been touted, then later discredited, as causes for breast cancer. Cancer myths like these can be harmful or misleading, affecting each person’s ability to make healthy and informed lifestyle choices.

The American Cancer Society reports that breast cancer is second only to skin cancer as the most common type of cancer diagnosis among women in the United States. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 230,480 women and 2,140 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

Everyone is at risk for cancer, but each person’s risk varies due to genetics, gender, age, family history, and history of hormone exposure, among others.  Click here to learn more about assessing your risk for breast cancer. Once armed with the facts, you can reduce your cancer risk significantly just by practicing a healthy lifestyle.

Myth #1: Most breast cancer is hereditary

“False,” says Jane Ambro, cancer prevention specialist with Indiana University Health. “Approximately 7 percent of breast cancers are considered hereditary in nature.” Most breast cancers are not inherited, but are considered random or “sporadic.”

Myth #2: I’m too young to worry about breast cancer

The risk for breast cancer increases with age. However, even young women can develop breast cancer in certain situations. One such situation can be the presence of a family history of breast and ovarian cancer or a history of multiple cancers on one side of the family. Other situations may include a known BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutation and, exposure to high levels of radiation as a child. Some young women can still develop breast cancer without these risk factors. It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about these and any other risk factors.

Myth #3: If I have a lump, it’s cancer

Most of the time, a lump or thickening in the breast or under the arm is not due to cancer and has another cause. You should still check with your healthcare provider about any persistent (longer than 2 weeks) lump you notice in these areas. It’s also important to note that some breast cancers do not cause lumps and can manifest with other symptoms such as:  dimpling or pulling in of the skin, inversion of the nipple, new or sudden pain in one breast that does not go away, nipple discharge, rash or bruising, swelling or other changes in the size or shape of the breast.  Most breast cancers, however, do not cause any symptoms.

Myth #4: A nutritious diet prevents breast cancer

Though a healthy diet can help to reduce your risk for breast cancer, it doesn’t prevent the disease. For optimal health, everyone should follow a healthy diet and exercise program and maintain a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index).

Myth #5: Only women get breast cancer

“Cancer is an equal-opportunity disease,” says Ambro. “Breast cancer can also develop in men. Each year, about 2,000 men in this country learn they have breast cancer.”

There is good news for anyone concerned about his or her risk for breast cancer. As more than 3 million breast cancer survivors can attest, diagnosis and treatment for the disease has come a long way. If detected early, the American Cancer Society reports that 90 percent of breast cancers can be successfully treated.

To make an appointment for your annual mammogram visit iuhealth.org/mammo.

If you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, you can get access to an IU Health breast surgeon within 48 Hours at iuhealth.org/48hour.

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