The numbers around breast cancer are scary: According to the (ACS), the odds of a woman developing the disease in her lifetime is about 12%, or 1 in 8. In 2018, the ACS estimates that there will be about 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed, 63,960 new cases of reported, and 40,920 women are likely going to die from the disease.
But knowledge can save lives, which is why Breast Cancer Awareness Month is so important. Not only should you know the facts about breast cancer, but you should also be aware of what simply isn't true. From the significance of an unexpected lump to the importance of your family tree, here are seven common myths every woman should know.
It's one of the most popular misconceptions: thinking that as long as no one in your family has had breast cancer, then you won't either. But 70% of diagnoses are believed to be entirely sporadic, meaning there is no inherited component, says Julie R. Gralow, M.D., director of breast medical oncology at the . "That's why regardless of your medical history, it's critical to speak with your physician about a screening schedule that's appropriate for you."
While your doctor can provide personalized recommendations — not to mention identify patterns and recommend additional screening or genetic counseling — Dr. Gralow says that for those with a strong family history, it's recommended that you begin screening at a young age. That could be as early as 25, as the says your risk is higher if a first-degree relative (a mother, sister, or daughter) was diagnosed, particularly if the breast cancer developed before the age of 50. To be proactive, Lillie Shockney, R.N., B.S., administrative director of the , says women may want to start getting mammograms 10 years before the age of their relative's diagnosis.
If there's no family history, the women start getting yearly mammograms at age 45. But again, it's best to talk to your doctor to determine what works for you.
Because we've been conditioned to look for lumps during self-exams, our fears automatically sky-rocket if we feel one. But there's no reason to panic just yet. "The vast majority [of women] who feel a mass in their breast won't have cancer," says Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer for the .
In fact, 75% of the time a lump is something less serious, like a cyst or a , Dr. Brawley says. It could also be related to your menstrual cycle, says , M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Florida International University.
That said, if you find a lump, schedule a visit to the doctor as soon as possible. Your OBGYN will want to perform a physical exam, and may decide to follow up with an ultrasound and/or mammogram if necessary.
Developing breast cancer is a possibility at any age, and while older women — particularly those — are at an elevated risk, more than 250,000 women living in the U.S. today were diagnosed before they turned 40, according to the (YSC).
Unfortunately, the odds are also stacked against those diagnosed young. When compared to older women, those who are diagnosed before 40 tend to face more aggressive cancers and lower survival rates, . Research that breast cancer before age 40 differs biologically from cancer faced by older women.
Plus, lump detection can be more difficult for younger women because they have denser breast tissue, Shockney says. "As we age, estrogen levels usually decrease, and density is replaced with fatty tissue that's easier to evaluate," she explains.
That's why if you're over 20 years old and notice a change in one of your breasts, go get checked out. It may not be cancer, but it's best to have an expert's opinion.
Though white men are 100 times less likely to develop breast cancer than white women (and diagnosis is 70 times less common among black males than females), it is still possible for men to get breast cancer. In fact, that about 2,550 men will be diagnosed and approximately 480 will die from the disease in 2018.
Breast cancer is also typically discovered later in men — meaning it's often found at a more advanced stage — but research published in the found that men have a higher survival rate than women. That makes sense, given that male breast cancer is less than 1% of all breast cancer cases, Dr. Gralow says. "[Plus], men don't have estrogen and progesterone exposure, they don't lactate, and they have very few ducts and lobules, which is where breast cancer starts," she says. In other words, their risk is much lower.
This is a common misperception, Shockney says. But, because the origins of your genes are split between your mother and father, you have to look at both sides of the family tree when .
First-degree relatives (a mother, sister or daughter) are the most important in assessing your risk level, but Dr. Runowicz says you also need to analyze your father's sisters and mother. Talking to your physician can determine how much screening you need and when, and can also help with the decision of whether to go through genetic testing.
A lump isn't the only change in your breast to watch out for, which is why experts want women to practice "breast awareness," AKA paying attention to individual changes that are out of the norm for your usual breast shape, size, appearance, or feel, Shockney says.
Possible changes that Dr. Brawley says should prompt a doctor's visit: an area of the breast feels firmer or thicker; you notice larger, more noticeable pores in one spot on the skin; there is now skin puckering, nipple inversion, or bloody or clear nipple discharge. It's also worth noting that, in (a rare but aggressive form), one area of the breast may develop a rash-like patch, swelling either in one spot or throughout the entire breast, and/or abnormal breast warmth.
The likelihood of cancer recurring in the other breast isn't as great as most women think. "For women who don't carry a breast cancer gene mutation (BRCA1 or BRCA2) — — the risk is only about 5% that they'll get cancer in the other breast," Shockney says.
Women who carry the gene mutation, or whom have a significant family history of breast cancer, often opt for a bilateral mastectomy to remove both breasts as a preventative measure and to decrease their anxiety about recurrence, Shockney says. That's because the risk of cancer appearing in the opposite breast is about 40% higher in this scenario, she explains, as carriers of the gene mutation are in general.