For many people, breast disease and breast cancer awareness is often shrouded in fear and misinformation. For our October issue, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we asked Dr. Kerry Bennett, a Reliant Medical Group surgeon who specializes in breast surgery, to offer answers to some common misconceptions regarding breast health.
Misconception: The majority of people who get breast cancer have a family history.
Fact. Approximately 85% of people who get breast cancer do not have a family history.
Misconception: I can’t do anything to reduce my risk of getting breast cancer.
Fact. While it is true you can do everything “right” and still get breast cancer, you can take steps to reduce your risk of getting the disease. While estrogen does not cause breast cancer, excess estrogen is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. If you are postmenopausal, try to take estrogen pills for only two years or take only low dose estrogen. The number one way to reduce your risk of breast cancer is to lose 10 pounds (if you are overweight). That decreases the fat or adipose on your belly and decreases estrogen levels. Losing 10 pounds has the same protective effect as taking 10 years of Tamoxifen, a common anti-estrogen pill used to prevent breast cancer. Lifestyle changes are paramount in reducing breast disease and cancer. Eating a high fiber diet (greater than 25 grams of fiber each and every day) reduces the risk of not only breast cancer but of colon cancer. Daily exercise, especially outside (such as walking 20 minutes per day) also reduces the risk of breast cancer.
Misconception: Mammograms increase the risk of cancer.
Fact: Mammography uses low dose radiation and does not increase the risk of breast cancer.
Misconception: Mammograms can prevent cancer.
Fact: Mammograms only detect cancer early, they do not prevent it.
Misconception: I have dense breasts therefore I need an MRI.
Fact: Dense breasts make it more difficult to detect breast cancer. If you have dense breasts, current recommendations are to have a 3-D digital mammogram instead of the standard 2-D digital mammogram. MRI is indicated only in a select group of patients. The radiologist and your doctor can help decide which is best.
Misconception: Breast pain means I have cancer or it means I am at higher risk of getting cancer.
Fact. Breast pain is associated with cancer in only 4% of patients. Breast pain does not increase the risk of getting breast cancer. Breast pain is an indictor to take better care of yourself. While the mechanisms are not truly understood, if you treat your breast pain with a high fiber diet, increased water intake, daily exercise, decreased caffeine, better sleep and use stress management tools, the pain can markedly decrease and even go away.
Misconception: I have a mass I can feel but it’s not seen on a mammogram or ultrasound so I don’t need to do anything.
Fact. If you can feel a mass that is present for more than three months and it is not seen on a mammogram or ultrasound, that mass needs a core biopsy. A core biopsy is usually done in the office. In menstruating women eighty percent of masses will go away with the same treatment listed for breast pain. But if you feel a mass, see your medical provider. Your medical provider will likely order a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. If you or your medical provider can feel a mass, even if it’s not seen on mammogram or ultrasound, please see a breast health specialist.
Misconception: I’ve heard that self-breast exam (SBE) isn’t necessary and it’s not worth it for me to do SBE because my breasts are so lumpy anyway.
Fact. While SBE does not save lives on a population basis, it certainly is a way some people find out they have cancer. Cancer does often stand out from the breast tissue. SBE is recommended to be done on day four of your period. Day one is the day you get your period so on day four feel the breasts with the fingertips while you take a shower or lie in bed. Feel from your clavicle, down the lower breast fold, over into your armpit and to the middle of your chest at the sternum. If you feel something that stays in the same place see your health care practitioner. On that day also look at your breasts in the mirror and lean forward and back looking for any skin or nipple changes such as discoloration, pulling, indentations or masses.
Misconception: Every breast cancer must be removed as quickly as possible.
Fact: Breast cancer usually develops over years. Mammograms can detect cancer earlier. Some breast cancers like inflammatory breast cancer develop quickly; however, the majority grow slowly. Breast cancer terrifies people, and the fear and anxiety are by far the worst part of having breast cancer. In over 90% of cases the combination of surgery, radiation therapy and medication cures the breast cancer.
Misconception: Radiation therapy has many awful side effects.
Fact: Radiation therapy side effects are usually limited to fatigue and skin irritation similar to a bad sunburn. Radiation is usually done for an hour per day, five days per week, for a total of 15-33 treatments.
Misconception: I have breast cancer so I have to have a mastectomy.
Fact. Since the 1980s we have learned that the survival and recurrence rates of breast cancer are the same with mastectomy or partial mastectomy (formerly called lumpectomy) as long as those who chose a partial mastectomy also receive radiation treatment.
At Reliant Medical Group we offer comprehensive, cutting-edge breast disease and cancer treatment. If you have any questions please call your provider or email Dr. Kerry Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org.