Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but is highly treatable when identified early.
One of the biggest challenges physicians face in treating women with a malignant tumor is debunking the many myths surrounding identifying and treating breast cancer.
Catholic Health Service’s (CHS) St. Joseph Hospital Chief of Breast Surgery and Director of the Breast Health Center David I. Kaufman, MD, FACS, addresses misinformation whenever discussing treatment options with patients.
Myth: Breast cancer always appears in the form of a lump or with pain.
Dr. Kaufman: Many women think that if they are experiencing pain in their breasts, it is a sign of cancer. It is extremely rare for breast cancer to cause breast pain. Of course, there are exceptions, however, in most instances, pain in the breast is not connected to cancer. Also important to note is that if someone is found to have a lump in the breast, it does not definitely mean it is cancer. In fact, 80% to 85% of breast lumps are not cancerous. Many non-cancerous breast conditions can cause a lump to form, however, a lump that can be felt always needs to be evaluated by a trained professional. Of note, breast cancer can be diagnosed in women with no breast lump at all. For example, cancerous areas can appear as a tiny cluster of microscopic calcium deposits detected only by a mammogram, which is one reason why having a yearly mammogram is so important.
Myth: Eating organic foods will reduce my risk of breast cancer.
Dr. Kaufman: While organic foods are not exposed to chemical-based pesticides, certain fertilizers, or GMO's, the jury is still out regarding the possible benefits that eating these foods may offer in terms of reducing the risk of breast cancer. Proven ways to lower risk are to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is low in fatty and processed foods and to minimize fast food consumption. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh foods and whole grains and stay well hydrated. Healthy eating habits will also help to maintain proper body weight, which is important since being overweight or obese does increase the risk of breast cancer. Healthy lifestyle choices are important as well, since smoking and consuming large amounts of alcohol have also been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.
Myth: Women don’t need to have an annual mammogram
Dr. Kaufman: Women age 40 and over should have a mammogram annually. Some think that they can skip a year, but that’s not the case. Additionally, women with a family history or personal history of breast cancer may need to start having yearly mammograms before the age of 40.
Myth: If I have an MRI, I don’t need a mammogram.
Dr. Kaufman: An MRI does not replace a mammogram. In fact, an MRI complements mammography. We don’t rely on any one modality to diagnose breast cancer. We use several tools including mammogram, ultrasound, MRI and physical examination. MRI is a problem-solving tool that we use at those times when we are looking for greater clarity or need more information. It gives us a deeper, more thorough look into the breast tissue.
Myth: My father’s genetics have nothing to do with my risk of breast cancer.
Dr. Kaufman: This is a very common misconception as many women think they need to know only the cancer history of their mother’s side of the family. We get half of our genetics from our mother and half from our father. It’s equally important to know the medical history of both parents and their families.
Myth: Having a mastectomy removes all chances of getting breast cancer again.
Dr. Kaufman: During a mastectomy, about 95% of breast tissue is removed. Although this is the best tool we have to remove cancer or prevent cancer from reoccurring, we don’t have any one tool that is 100% effective.
Myth: A breast cancer diagnosis is a death sentence.
Dr. Kaufman: The fact is when breast cancer is caught at an early stage, there is more than a 90% survival rate. Even breast cancer caught at what we would consider a moderate stage when the disease is more advanced, the survival rate is still more than 80%. The bottom line is when breast cancer is caught early, we can treat women so they can live a normal, healthy life. This also speaks to the importance of annual examinations such as mammography.
Myth: Needle biopsies cause the spread of breast cancer.
Dr. Kaufman: Some people think if you touch cancer, poke it or open the skin to let it become exposed to air, it’s going to spread like wildfire. This is simply not true. Needle biopsies are a safe and accurate way to determine if a suspicious mass in the breast is cancerous.
For more information on breast cancer treatment options and services offered by CHS, please call (844) 862-2637 or visit chsli.org/breast-cancer.