The truth about breast cancer


Everyone knows what those ubiquitous pink ribbons mean and what happens when armies of women in pink t-shirts and their loved ones march through towns and suburbs to raise money for research. And it’s obviously a good thing that breast cancer is no longer the taboo subject it was in the last century, when too many women were embarrassed to seek the care and support they needed early enough to save their lives. .

But with all the information available (and with one in eight women diagnosed in her lifetime), there are also myths that can hinder early detection and treatment. Coming up, we share the facts and fictions about breast cancer.

Myth #1: If you don’t have a lump, you don’t have breast cancer.

Many women don’t have a lump when their cancer is found on a mammogram, says Dawn Mussallem, DO, breast health specialist in hematology and oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. Still, it’s important to keep an eye (or hand) for any changes in your breasts and let your doctor know immediately, says Susan Brown, RN, executive director of patient education and support for the organization. Breast Cancer Nonprofit Susan G. Komen. Signs of cancer may include thickening or swelling of the breast, redness or scaling around the nipple, puckering of the skin, inversion of the nipple, discharge, breast pain, and a change in size or shape. But if you find a lump, don’t panic, the majority of large ones are benign, says Dr. Mussallem.

Myth #2: The fight against breast cancer is almost won.

Despite all the awareness, breast cancer is still a big concern. It is the second most common cancer in women (skin cancer comes first) and the second most deadly (after lung cancer). This year, some 279,100 people will be diagnosed and 42,690 will die from it. From 2012 to 2016, the latest period for which data are available, cases of invasive breast cancer have increased.

Yet we have made remarkable progress: Breast cancer deaths have fallen by 40% since 1989. This is largely due to early detection, a decrease in hormone replacement therapy, and better and more targeted treatment. , explains Brown. One hope for the future, she says, is that detection will one day be as easy as taking a blood or urine test, and that more clinical trials and more equitable access to healthcare can save even more. more lives.

Myth #3: Breast cancer is breast cancer.

Breast cancer is not a single disease, but “a family of diseases, each with its own unique personality,” says Brown. Some involve a type of protein that causes cancer cells to grow; some (such as estrogen receptor or progesterone positive tumors) are sensitive to hormones, while others are not. The way cancer grows and how it is treated (chemo, surgery, other drugs, or a combination) can vary depending on the type or subtype of breast cancer it is. The most common type, accounting for 70 to 80% of cases, is invasive ductal carcinoma, which starts in the milk ducts and then spreads, says Dr. Mussallem. Other types of invasive breast cancer include invasive lobular carcinoma and inflammatory breast cancer, a rare, rapidly growing cancer that is more common in black women and obese women.

Myth #4: If you don’t have a family history, you don’t have to worry much.

Down with the myths About 85% of women with breast cancer have no close relatives with a history of the disease, which is why “every woman is at risk and should watch for signs and have mammograms,” says Brown. The two main risk factors are being born a woman and getting older. Others include dense breast tissue and a high BMI.

Yet a family history matters. Your risk almost doubles if you have a first-generation parent (mother, sister, daughter) who had it, says Brown. And 5-10% of breast cancers are the result of rare inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which increase the risk by up to 70% before the age of 70 and are more likely to occur in women of Ashkenazi Jewish origin. If you’re at higher risk, talk to your doctor about preventative measures like medications, surgery, and early screening.

Myth #5: There’s not much you can do except get tested and watch for the signs.

Your weight, how often you exercise, your alcohol and tobacco use, and the hormones you take all play a role in your risk for breast cancer, says Dr. Mussallem. Maintaining a healthy weight is very important, as obesity increases the risk of breast cancer after menopause 1.5 to 2 times. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physical activity could prevent one in eight cases of breast cancer. What’s more, research suggests that sweating regularly can reduce the risk of breast cancer by 10-20% for all women, including those at very high risk.

Also watch how much alcohol you drink. Women who drink two or three drinks a day have a 20% higher risk of developing breast cancer, but “any amount of alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer, and the more you drink, the higher your risk.” is high, ”says Dr Mussallem. It’s a good idea to take it slow, regardless of your family history.

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