Friday, October 29, 2010

Focused on a Cure: Breast Cancer Myths and Truths

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month:
Do you know the truth about breast cancer?

Myths and Truths about Breast Cancer and Mammograms

MYTH: No one in my family has ever had breast cancer, so I don’t really need to be concerned.

TRUTH: Your risk is greater if a close relative has had breast cancer – but as many as 80 percent of breast cancers are diagnosed in women who do not have a family history of the disease.

MYTH: If I’m going to get breast cancer, there’s nothing I can do about it.

TRUTH: Yes, there are things you can do. While we still don’t how to prevent breast cancer, we do know that early detection can improve a woman’s chances of beating this disease. A mammogram can find a tumor much earlier than you or your doctor can feel it. When breast cancer is found early, while it is small and before it has spread, the chance of successful treatment is highest. Early detection also means that a woman’s chances for saving her breast are better because doctors may be able to remove the tumor and only a small area of nearby tissue. You can also take steps to reduce your risk of the disease, including maintaining a healthy weight, eating well, getting plenty of exercise, and limiting alcohol intake.

MYTH: These tests cost a lot, and I can’t afford a mammogram.

TRUTH: Medicare, Medicaid, and almost all insurance companies cover mammograms. Some low-cost mammogram programs are also available. These are often promoted during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, every October. Some doctors, hospitals, or clinics may also lower their fees for women who cannot afford the usual charge. Also, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides free or low-cost screening and follow-up treatment for low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women, with a high priority on reaching racial and ethnic minority women. Contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to learn more about special low-cost programs in your community.

MYTH: Since mammograms are x-rays, the radiation could be dangerous.

TRUTH: In the past 20 years, both the equipment and how mammograms are done have greatly improved. Today, the level of radiation is very low and does not significantly raise a woman's risk of breast cancer.

MYTH: I heard mammograms hurt and can be embarrassing.

TRUTH: When you get a mammogram, you stand beside the machine and a specially trained technologist helps place your breast on a metal plate. A second plate made of plastic is placed on top, and for a few seconds, the top plate is pushed down and flattens the breast to get a good, clear picture. The technologist usually takes two pictures of each breast. Many women may feel some discomfort, but it is for a very short time. To reduce discomfort, try to avoid scheduling your mammogram during the week before or during your period, when your breasts are most tender. Tell the technologist if you have any pain.

MYTH: If I get a mammogram, I’m going to find breast cancer.

TRUTH: Only two to four mammograms out of every 1,000 will lead to a cancer diagnosis. Only about 10 percent of women need more tests. If a suspicious area is found, your doctor will order more tests. Another mammogram may be done, focusing more pictures on the area of concern. The doctor may also use a thin needle to remove fluid or a small amount of tissue from the suspicious area. This test is called a biopsy and it is the only way to know for sure whether or not the changes are caused by cancer. A specialist called a pathologist looks at the sample under a microscope. But even if you are told you need a biopsy, remember that more than 80 percent of lumps or suspicious areas will not be cancer.

MYTH: I’ve lived this long without getting breast cancer. Why should I bother with a mammogram?

TRUTH: Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older. More than two out of every three breast cancers diagnosed each year occur in women older than 55. Even if you've been through menopause, you still need a mammogram.

SOURCE: American Cancer Society  

For more information on how you can help create a world with less breast cancer and more birthdays, please call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit can also join your local Relay For Life at .

Focused on a Cure will be participating in the 2011 Cabarrus County Relay for Life.

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