Risky Thinking: 5 Breast Cancer Misconceptions
Armando E. Giuliano, MD, takes time to educate his patients on 5 misconceptions that could put them at risk.
- If my mammogram is normal, I do not have cancer. Mammography is the most effective screening tool we have, but it is not foolproof. Protect yourself by having an annual physical exam as well.
- Breast cancer does not run in my family, so I am not at risk. Only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are hereditary, and only 25 percent of patients have any family history. Regular screening is vital regardless of family history. Women with a strong family history should be followed more intensely.
- My BRCA test was negative, so I will not get cancer. Genetic testing is not 100 percent conclusive, and only a few genetic mutations causing breast cancer have been identified. If you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you need to be particularly vigilant about regular screening even if your genetic test is negative.
- I am too young (or too old) to worry about breast cancer. This disease affects women of all ages. Annual mammograms should start at 40 and continue long after menopause. Women under 40 should do self exams and get annual physical breast exams. No matter how old or young you are: If you feel a lump, have it checked.
- The only thing I can do is watch for signs and hope for the best. Be proactive. You can significantly lower your risk by maintaining good health habits such as keeping your weight down, exercising, minimizing or eliminating alcohol consumption, and not smoking. Careful screening will detect early cancers, which are highly curable.