Though frightening to think about, all women and even some men, must consider the possibility of a breast cancer diagnosis at some point in our lives. An oncology nurse navigator with Providence Medford Medical Center, Kate Newgard says, “The three risk factors that we have no control over are that we are women, we have breasts and we are getting older.” She and fellow oncology nurse navigator, Melanie Dines with Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, agree that with so much misinformation about breast cancer, it’s easy to be confused. They have agreed to share the benefit of their vast experience by giving us just the facts, ma’am.
No. 1: Radiation from the mammogram is harmful and can cause cancer.
“The No. 1 myth I hear is that you might get breast cancer from having a mammogram and that is just not true,” Newgard says. “Any kind of radiation exposure can be a cancer risk, of course, but I remind people that they actually get just as much radiation exposure when flying in an airplane. Annual mammography is still the best technique for early detection of breast cancer and it’s a very low risk exposure for a very great benefit.”
No. 2: At 40, I am healthy and feel great. I don’t need a mammogram. Or, I’m past 70. I’m too old to need a mammogram.
“The most common age for breast cancer is postmenopausal, so that’s generally after the age of 55,” Newgard explains. “We see a lot of cancers between age 60-85, then it tapers off around 80 or 90, but we think that could be because women that age are not getting yearly mammograms, so that’s harder to track.”
According to Breastcancer.org, the recommendations for women at average risk is an annual screening mammogram beginning at age 40. For higher risk patients, your doctor may modify that guideline. The National Breast Cancer Foundation encourages adult women of all ages to perform a breast self-exam to become familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel.
No. 3: There is a history of breast cancer in my family. I’m doomed. Or, No one in my family has had breast cancer, so I don’t have to worry.
“Family history of certain types of cancer like melanoma or colon cancer can increase your risk,” Dines says, “however, about 70% of women with breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease. In fact, only about 13% of women with breast cancer have a close relative—mother, sister or daughter—who has it.”
Newgard adds, “Genetics can play a part in how aggressive the cancer might be and the guarantee to get breast cancer. The BRCA gene is the one everybody talks about and with that, the risk for getting breast cancer is about 87%, and the risk for ovarian cancer is about 44%. The important thing to know is that if you have a strong family history, there are a lot of screening tools that can be used to determine genetic risk.”
No. 4: Wearing a bra can cause breast cancer. Or, Underarm antiperspirants and deodorants can cause breast cancer.
Dines says, “The myth is that wearing a bra, especially an underwire style, could restrict the flow of lymph fluid, causing toxic substances to build up in the tissue. But according to Breastcancer.org., a 2014 study of roughly 1,500 women with breast cancer found no link between bra-wearing and breast cancer.”
Regarding deodorants, Dines adds, “The theory is that some antiperspirants, especially those containing aluminum and other chemicals, are absorbed into the lymph nodes and make their way into breast cells, increasing cancer risk. Although they are still being studied, there is no evidence of a connection between underarm antiperspirant and breast cancer.”
No. 5: I don’t feel any lumps, therefore I don’t need to get a mammogram.
Newgard says, “In 2008, the United States Preventative Task force came out with some new guidelines in an attempt to reduce false negatives, by recommending less frequent mammograms and not advocating self-breast exams. But because I see so many cases of early detection by women who do self-exams, I still believe strongly that even with a yearly mammogram, it’s important to know what feels normal for your breasts, so you are more aware of any changes that occur.”
No. 6: I have some breast pain, but I’ve heard that means it’s not cancer.
“There is a myth that breast cancer isn’t painful,” says Dines, “but if there’s a tumor that’s forming its own blood supply, it can be painful. If you have breast pain that doesn’t go away, you need to have it checked out by your primary care practitioner.”
No 7: Having a biopsy can cause cancer.
“Another common misconception is that having a biopsy can cause cancer,” Newgard says. “That somehow we’re going to contaminate other tissue in the breast and cause the cancer to spread and that is just not true. There is no data that says that if you take a cancer cell from any part of the body and put it in the same or another organ that it would set up camp in that new location. That’s a big misconception.”