Common Myths about Breast Cancer

by Garreth Myers

There have been quite a number of myths and misconceptions about breast cancer over the years. It is important to debunk some of these myths so that people have a better understanding of breast cancer and how to manage and cope with it. Here are some of the most common myths about breast cancer.

  • Only those with a genetic predisposition are likely to get breast cancer : Studies show that almost 80 percent of women affected by breast cancer do not have a family history of the condition. Therefore even if no family member has been affected, it is still important to undergo an annual mammogram. Regular screening is especially essential for women above the age of 40 years.
  • Wearing an underwire bra increases the risk of breast cancer : There had been certain claims that underwire bras lead to an accumulation of toxins in the lymphatic tissues of the breasts. However these claims have been regarded as unscientific.
  • Breast cancer inevitably results in death : The disease is not necessarily fatal. Treatment for breast cancer has advanced considerably and early detection helps to save lives. Breast cancer that has spread to other areas of the body may pose a greater challenge, although even in such cases, many women are able to live for years with the disease.
  • Younger women need not worry about breast cancer : Breast cancer can strike at any age. It is more common in women who have passed menopause, but studies show that about 25 percent of breast cancer cases involve women below the age of 50 years. Younger women are advised to undergo an annual breast exam. Mammographic examinations may begin once they reach the age of 40. In case a lump is detected, it needs to be examined, no matter what the individual's age.
  • After five years of being cancer-free, the disease is not likely to return : Breast cancer is more likely to recur during the initial 5 to 10 years after recovery. However it can also recur at any time.
  • Chemotherapy leads to persistent vomiting : Chemotherapy does lead to symptoms such as nausea and vomiting because it triggers the release of various chemicals. This activates the reflexes responsible for nausea and vomiting. Newer drugs which are now being used in treating cancer can help to control these symptoms and prevent persistent vomiting.
  • A lump in the breast is indicative of cancer : In most cases breast lumps don't turn out to be cancer. Masses found in the breast could also be cysts or other benign conditions. These may also require treatment, but do not indicate cancer. However since early detection makes such a huge difference in cancer treatment and recovery, it is best to get all lumps examined.
  • If a breast lump is painful, it means it is not cancer : Usually lumps that are indicative of cancer are painless. However lumps that cause pain do not completely rule out cancer. There is no real correlation between a painful lump and cancer and the best way to be sure is to get it examined by a doctor.
  • Mammograms are agonizing : Mammograms may involve a degree of discomfort, but they should not be painful. It is advisable to schedule mammographic screenings during the first couple of weeks of the menstrual cycle as the breasts are less tender at this time. In case there is pain during a mammogram, it is best to talk to the specialist who is conducting the test so that level of compression can be adjusted.
  • Nutritional supplements and herbs are effective in treating breast cancer : There is no scientific evidence that any herbal remedy or dietary supplement can treat breast cancer. There is also mixed evidence as to whether these alternative therapies interact with the commercial medications. Even supplements and herbs may lead to side effects and this may interfere with the effectiveness of other medications. In case an individual does wish to use such therapies, it is imperative to first discuss it with the doctor.
  • Treatment with radiation is harmful for the heart, lungs and ribs : The techniques of radiation today are more effective and a lot safer. The exposure to the heart, lungs and ribs is minimized to a large extent. The skin may darken during the treatment, however this should subside once treatment is complete.
  • Clinical trials may be helpful for others, but will not improve my condition : Clinical trials involve administering standard treatment to all participants. In some cases, in addition to standard treatment, newer therapies are also administered. In other cases, the researchers attempt to find out more information about the nature of the cancer and how it is affected by treatment. This helps in improving the existing approaches to cancer treatment. Therefore such trials are beneficial for everyone.

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