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Seven Breast Cancer Myths

Each October, pink ribbons flow and women are reminded that breast cancer is the second most common cancer affecting them, with skin cancer being No. 1.

About 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the U.S., and 40,000 will die from it.

That's why it's important for women to have the correct information when it comes to this disease.

Here are seven of the most common myths about breast cancer:

1. Myth: A lump in the breast always means cancer.

Fact: Eighty percent of breast lumps are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. Despite this, any woman who discovers a lump should see her doctor immediately and receive a mammogram if the doctor deems necessary, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

2. Myth: Mammograms may cause cancer to spread.

Fact: A mammogram, which is essentially an X-ray of the breast, does not spread cancer. Neither the radiation from the X-ray, nor the pressure from the test can cause cancer to spread. It is also the best method of early detection for women over the age of 40.

Think Pink: Mammogram Abnormalities - Blog by Dr. Cynara Coomer

3. Myth: There's no history of breast cancer in my family, so I won’t get it.

Fact: Dr. Marisa Weiss, an oncologist and the president and founder of breastcancer.org, said although women with a family history are at a higher risk for the disease, environmental factors such as drinking, smoking, medication and diet can all influence a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer. Knowing the history of breast cancer on both sides of your family is also important. Just because a woman doesn’t have a history of breast cancer on her mother’s side doesn’t mean she’s at a decreased risk. Her father's family history of breast cancer also increases a woman’s chances of getting it.

4. Myth: Having a mastectomy is the best way to cure breast cancer and prevent it from coming back.

Fact: Very few women diagnosed with breast cancer actually need a mastectomy, according to Dr. Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families. “In fact, most of the women who get mastectomies don’t need them,” she said. “And for women to lose their breasts, in addition to the normal emotional turmoil that they go through having breast cancer, can be harmful emotionally and physically.”

Zuckerman said that about 75 percent of the women who get breast cancer each year will not need mastectomies and will rely instead on chemotherapy, radiation and lumpectomy.

5. Myth: Young women are just as likely to get breast cancer as older women.

Fact: Women older than 50 are most at risk for this disease, Zuckerman said.

Of the nearly 200,000 women who will get breast cancer this year, half will be over the age of 61, said Weiss. About 25,000 women, or less than a quarter of the patients under 61, will be under the age of 40.

“It’s still a significant number, but when you compare it to the overall number of women who get breast cancer, it’s a small percentage,” she said.

6. Myth: Breast cancer is fatal.

Fact: “Breast cancer is not fatal in and of itself,” said Zuckerman. “What makes it fatal is if it goes into other parts of the body and gets into the lymph nodes, lungs and other organs."

The cancer may also spread to the bones and blood, which increases the risk of fatality. This is why detection and treatment before it spreads is important in the fight against breast cancer.

7. Myth: Men don’t get breast cancer.

Fact: The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be more than 2,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in men this year, and about 450 men will die after getting the disease.

Still, breast cancer is about 100 times more common in women, and women whose fathers are diagnosed with breast cancer are at an increased risk for the disease just as they would be if their mothers are diagnosed with it, Weiss said.