Breast Cancer Awareness: Exposing the Myths and Uncovering the Facts
As you may be aware, breast cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer death in women and 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
Until the mid to late 1960s there was no specific test for breast cancer. Although x-rays were discovered in 1895, it was in 1956 that Robert Egan, a radiologist, developed a special film technique. The first mammogram machine was introduced in 1966. In the 1960s, simple screen film mammography was state of the art. New techniques were developed that reduced the amount of radiation required for mammography through continuing efforts from multiple companies in the field.
Breast Cancer Facts:
Breast cancer is usually of two main types based on their cell origin. Lobular carcinoma starts in parts of the breast know as lobules or the area that produces milk.
Ductal carcinoma starts in ductules or the tube that carries milk from lobules to the nipple. Most cancers originate from the ducts.
Factors that influence the development of breast cancer include:
- Age in that a risk of developing breast cancer is found in women over the age of 50.
- Genetic predisposition for breast cancer, patient’s who have BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a significantly increased chance of developing breast cancer. Some studies have suggested that even an 80% chance of getting breast cancer during their lifetime.
- Patients with a family history of breast cancer have a high-risk of developing breast cancer as well.
Factors that increase your risk include:
- Alcohol use. Patients with one or two glasses of alcohol a day might increase the chance of developing breast cancer.
- Women who have never had children or who had their first child after the age of 30 have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Hormone therapy gives you a slight increased risk of breast cancer or increasing your risk of breast cancer.
- DES (diethyl stilbestronate) in mothers of female children might increase those female children’s risk of breast cancer although most of women, that that applies to, are decreasing in numbers since this drug was given in the 1940s through the 1960s.
- Radiation increases you chance of breast cancer just the same as it increases the chance of cancer anywhere especially true if radiation was given as a child during breast development.
Breast Cancer Myths:
Myth: Radiation exposure from a mammography will increase my risk of developing breast cancer.
Truth: The radiation dose in modern mammography is so low that it is unlikely to cause breast cancer. An interesting fact from eMedicineHelp.com suggests that a passenger on an intercontinental flight is exposed to more radiation that one would receive from having a mammogram & according to the National Cancer Institute, “The benefits of mammography, however, nearly always outweigh the potential harm from the radiation exposure. Mammograms require very small doses of radiation. The risk of harm from this radiation exposure is extremely low.”
Myth: Only women can get breast cancer.
Fact: It should be noted that males can absolutely have breast cancer and 1% of all breast cancer originates in males.
Myth: If someone in your family has breast cancer, you are likely to get it as well.
Fact: Most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Statistically only about 10% of those diagbosed with breast cancer have a family history of the disease though women with a family history are considered to be in a higher risk group.
Breast Cancer Detection & Treatment
Other means of detection are available for detecting breast cancer. These include and most importantly self-examination oftentimes women find it easier to examine themselves while in the shower and in the upright position. It is important for each woman to become familiar with her breast texture in order to discover a lump early and not fully depend on medical personnel to discover a mass.
Ultrasound is an excellent way to characterize masses in the breast. Largely it can determine whether or not the mass is aggressive and invades adjacent tissue, whether the mass is cystic or solid, or whether the mass has some calcifications that could suggest malignancy. Ultrasound should be used as an adjunct to mammography and breast examination.
MRI is an excellent way to evaluate the breast especially in patients who have dense breast tissue. In fact, an MRI is slightly more diagnostic in patients with dense breast tissue. Several states have passed laws that mandate that women be informed of the fact that MRIs in patients with dense breasts are more diagnostic than simple mammography.
What can you do to discover breast cancer at the earliest stage because discovering it earlier makes it more manageable and in some cases, curable.
- The first and most important thing any woman or man can do is be familiar with their breasts and once again the best place to do that is in the shower. Most women feel that with soap and in the upright position that it is easier to examine themselves. Any suspicious mass or change in the tissue character should be report to the patient’s doctor.
- Signs and symptoms:
- Breast lump or lymph node lump in the arm pit.
- Change in size and shape of the breast or the nipple. Redness, dimpling, puckering, or orange color to the skin.
- Drainage that may be yellow, pus-looking or may be bloody.
- Be familiar with your genetic background. Be familiar with close or first generation relatives that have had breast cancer.
- Yearly mammograms are still the recommendation for patients over the age of 40. There have been multiple studies that want to change the interval for screening in patients over the age of 40 and patients over 50. However, currently the recommendation remains a yearly mammogram in patients over the age of 40.
In summary, with today’s technology, state of the art medicine, practiced vigilance by women routinely giving themselves a breast exam, the ability to detect an early lesion, lump, or change in breast tissue could possibly be treated and potentially cured.
October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month
How can National Breast Cancer Awareness Month make a difference? We can use this opportunity to spread the word about steps women can take to detect breast cancer early.
Steps women can take to detect breast cancer early & spread the word
- Grab your girlfriend, relative, loved one, or neighbor, and plan a day to get your mammograms together. Finish the day with a plan to do lunch, go to the spa, go workout…..”Just Do It”….Celebrate “Life”
- Go on the Breast Cancer Awareness Walk that’s being planned in your community….. BECOME AWARE!!!
- Support those who have lived or are living with Breast Cancer and those who have survived Breast Cancer.
- Ask doctors and nurses to speak to women in your community, church, office, or any organization you belong to, about the importance of getting screened for breast cancer.
- Encourage women ages 40 to 49 to talk with their doctors about when to start getting mammograms.
- Organize an event to talk with women ages 50 to 74 in your community about getting mammograms every 2 years.
For more information on breast cancer, visit www.breastcancer.org
Wendell V. McAbee M.D.
About The Author
Delena Supinski coordinates sales activities for IMAGINE Software products and services in the Western United States, while working to provide guidance and build strong relationships with new and existing clients nationwide.