Test your cancer prevention IQ with these 5 common questions for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it seems you can’t pick up a magazine or check your Facebook feed without bumping into news and advice. Yet, sifting through all that information may make you wonder if what you’re reading is true or just a load of bad science. To help dispel some of the more common breast cancer myths, we asked Dr. Preya Ananthakrishnan, Director of Breast Surgery at White Plains Hospital, to weigh in.
FICTION: A lump = breast cancer.
FACT: The good news is that many lumps are benign. “Very often, they turn out to be cysts or benign fibroadenomas,” explains Dr. Ananthakrishnan. If you do feel something unusual under your skin, get it checked out. Further testing, using imaging, can determine whether a given lump is a solid mass that needs more attention or a fluid-filled sac that can be drained or even left alone.
FICTION: You can get breast cancer only if someone on your mother’s side of the family has had it.
FACT: It’s not just your mother’s family history that matters when it comes to measuring breast cancer risk. Don’t overlook your male and female relatives on your father’s side of the family. But even if no one on either side has had breast cancer, that still doesn’t mean you’re at zero risk. In fact, “Up to 85 percent of women who get breast cancer have little or no family history. Only 15 percent of women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis have a genetic predisposition to the disease,” says Dr. Ananthakrishnan.
FICTION: Mammograms expose you to radiation, which can increase your cancer risk.
FACT: “Having a mammogram exposes you to less radiation than you experience just by walking around in everyday life, and it’s usually performed just once a year,” says Dr. Ananthakrishnan. If your doctor recommends a mammogram, don’t put it off because of the tiny amount of radiation that comes with it.
FICTION: Drinking alcohol won’t make much difference in terms of breast cancer risk.
FACT: An occasional drink is probably fine, but bear in mind that drinking alcohol does increase breast cancer risk. According to experts, women who have two or three drinks a day have a 20 percent higher risk of developing the disease. Your best bet? “Limit alcohol to four to seven drinks a week,” recommends Dr. Ananthakrishnan.
FICTION: If you have a mastectomy, you can’t get breast cancer again.
FACT: Even if your breast has been removed, there’s still a chance that cancer could reappear near the original site or elsewhere in the body. “A mastectomy reduces the risk of a local recurrence, but it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a return,” the doctor says. That is why it is important to stay plugged in with your treatment team for routine follow-up visits after cancer treatment.
FICTION: Stress can cause breast cancer.
FACT: There’s no study that shows a correlation between breast cancer and stress, Dr. Ananthakrishnan says. The most you can do is take care of yourself and manage these feelings, which might mean getting more exercise and better sleep or trying meditation.