Breast Cancer: Top Five Myths

Today, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, as well as in India.  There are many myths surrounding this disease – and some are quite prevalent.  Here is a list of a few common misconceptions about breast cancer that I encounter in my clinical practice:

MYTH 1: If there is no breast cancer history in the family, I will not get it:  More than 90% of breast cancers are sporadic – that is, they occur in people with no family history of the disease. There is no guarantee that someone will not get breast cancer just because nobody else in the family had it.

Fortunately, the reverse is also true – it doesn’t mean someone will definitely get breast cancer just because a close relative had it. See this article on how to estimate somebody’s chance of getting cancer.

MYTH 2: Most breast lumps are cancer: Most lumps in the breast are actually benign.  However, it is always wise to be evaluated by a doctor, especially in the case of women above 40 years.

MYTH 3: If there is no lump, there is no breast cancer:  90% of breast cancer presents as a lump in the breast.  Sometimes, however, other symptoms may be more obvious or precede a lump. These include – changes in the nipple (nipple retracting inward, nipple recently pointing in a different direction, ulcer on the nipple), changes in the skin of the breast (dimpling, redness), or a lump in the armpit rather than in the breast (enlarged lymph nodes).

MYTH 4: Deodorants/ bras/ mobile phones cause breast cancer: Plenty of research has been done on why breast cancer occurs.  There is no evidence that the use of underarm deodorants, shaving the underarms, using hair removal cream, wearing bras (of any material or type), keeping mobile phones inside the bra, or similar factors have any impact on the chances of developing breast cancer.

MYTH 5: Every woman with breast cancer requires similar treatment: Treatment for breast cancer depends on the type of cancer, stage at diagnosis, and the overall health of the patient.  The last decade has seen tremendous advances in our understanding of breast cancer, and treatment is now individualized for each patient.  The treatment that one woman requires for breast cancer may be completely different from the treatment which another woman received.

In summary, every woman must have the right knowledge about breast cancer, and not be misled by myths and misconceptions.

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