In honor of this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, your Certified Nurse Midwives at the West Wing Clinic would like to empower our wonderful community by sharing science-based information on this important topic. Amidst the abundance of information available online, myths and misconceptions about Breast Cancer can often circulate, causing unnecessary fear and confusion. With this information, we hope to give you some peace of mind along with the correct tools to take the power into your own hands.
Below, we’ll shed light on five common breast cancer myths and provide the facts to help you distinguish truth from fiction. In any case, never hesitate to contact us and make an appointment if you want to discuss this topic in more detail.
Myth 1: Finding a lump means you have breast cancer.
Fact: While discovering a lump in your breast can be alarming, it does not automatically indicate breast cancer. In fact, most breast lumps are benign, meaning they are non-cancerous. Lumps can result from a variety of causes, including cysts, fibroadenomas, or hormonal changes. However, any new lump or change in your breast should be promptly evaluated by a healthcare professional through a clinical examination and possibly imaging tests like a mammogram.
Early detection is paramount to successful breast cancer treatment, so it’s crucial not to ignore any unusual changes in your breasts. Regardless, don’t panic – remember that not all lumps are cancerous!
Myth 2: Men can’t get breast cancer.
Fact: It’s a common misconception that breast cancer only affects women, but the reality is that men can and do get breast cancer, too. Since men also have breast tissue, they can also develop breast cancer. While it is significantly less common in men than in women, it is predicted that this year, approximately 2,800 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 530 may die.
Men with a family history of breast cancer or certain genetic mutations may be at a higher risk. Breast Cancer in men is typically detected by a hard lump under the nipple and areola. Regardless, any breast changes, lumps, or abnormalities in men should be assessed by a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Myth 3: There is only one type of breast cancer.
Fact: Breast cancer is a complex disease with several different types. Some breast cancers can be small but aggressive in nature, and others may grow slowly and remain non-life threatening.
Each type of breast cancer has different characteristics and different treatment options. The most common type of breast cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which starts in the cells that line a milk duct. From there, the cancer spreads to the nearby breast tissues. In a similar fashion, invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) starts in the breast glands (lobules) and can spread from there. When you hear the term Metastatic breast cancer, that refers to the common term “stage 4,” which means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Other types of breast cancer include Ductal carcinoma in situ, Inflammatory breast cancer, and Breast cancer during pregnancy, among others.
Myth 4: If you have a family history of breast cancer, you are likely to develop breast cancer, too.
Fact: While a family history of breast cancer can increase your risk, it does not guarantee that you will develop the disease. Most breast cancer cases occur in individuals with no family history of the disease at all. Having a family member with breast cancer, especially a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child), may elevate your risk slightly, depending on the specific genetic factors involved.
When someone has a first-degree relative with breast cancer, it’s often advised to consider some form of testing beginning ten years before the age of the relative’s diagnosis. Overall, regular breast cancer screenings, such as mammograms and genetic testing when appropriate, can help manage and reduce your risk, even with a family history.
Myth 5: If a lump is cancerous, mastectomy is the only option.
Fact: A breast cancer diagnosis does not automatically lead to a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast). The choice of treatment depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, the size and location of the tumor, and the individual’s overall health and preferences.
Breast cancer treatment options have evolved significantly over the years, and many women with breast cancer can choose less invasive treatments, such as a lumpectomy, the removal of the tumor and some surrounding tissue. Radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy are also used in various combinations depending on the specific case.
While mastectomy may be recommended in certain situations, it’s not the only treatment option, and decisions should be made collaboratively with your medical team to ensure the best possible outcome while preserving breast health when possible.
With all the information at our fingertips, it can be hard to decipher what’s true and what’s not. Additionally, spreading misinformation can lead to unnecessary anxiety and confusion. It’s essential to separate fact from fiction in order to make informed decisions about your health and treatment options.
Remember, early detection through regular screenings, self-exams, and prompt medical evaluation of any breast changes can be crucial in improving outcomes. By dispelling these common myths, we can empower ourselves and our loved ones to take proactive steps in the fight against breast cancer.
Do you have more questions or want to get screened by one of our Certified Nurse Midwives? We’d love to have you. Contact us and set up an appointment today!
National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. (2022) Breast Cancer Myths. https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-myths/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023) Breast Cancer: Things You Should Know.
American Cancer Society. (2021) Types of Breast Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/breast-cancer/about/types-of-breast-cancer.html