Saturday, November 1, 2008

Top 10 Breast Cancer Myths

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Malaysian women. Yet, it is also among the most misunderstood. There are many unsubstantiated claims regarding this disease. In this article, we give you the top 10 breast cancer myths.

1. Men can't get breast cancer.
This is our no. 1 breast cancer myth. Interestingly, most men were quite surprise when told that they also can get breast cancer. This breast cancer myth is highly believed by many people not only in Malaysia but in the Western world as well. Although women develop breast cancer at a higher rate, men can develop breast cancer, too. However the incidence is much lower. Out of every 100 breast cancer patients, one of them is a man. The reason is simply men too have breast tissue and they are basically similar to women. Thus, they too can develop into breast cancer.

2. Underwire bras can cause breast cancer.
Many years ago, a few studies were published indicating that underwire bras can cause breast cancer. It was thought that the underwire bra blocked the lymphatic drainage and subsequently cancer formation. This has led to circulation of rumours that this myth is true. However, the studies were not well-substantiated and the general medical community do not accept this as something significant.

3. Women under 40 don't get breast cancer.
While it is true that a woman's risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, but women of all ages can develop breast cancer. This is why women of all ages need to perform a monthly breast self examination. In my clinical practice, I have seen many women in their early 20s with confirmed breast cancers. Unfortunately, breast cancers in younger women tend to be more aggressive and carry a poorer prognosis. Most of these cancers spread to stage 4 very fast and most of them died within a year of the diagnosis.

4. Antiperspirants and deodorants can cause breast cancer.
This is probably the most popular breast cancer myth of all. The rumour indicated that when you used deodorant or an antiperspirant and then cut yourself while shaving, a chemical could leak into the skin, causing breast cancer. Thank goodness it isn't true, but many women still go without wearing deodorant because of the myth.So ladies, there is no price to pay to smell good.

5. Birth control pills cause cancer.
One of the hormones in the body oestrogen, is associated to the development of breast cancer. Birth control pills manufactured prior to 1975 do contain high amount of oestrogen and progesterone. Newer birth control pills still contain small amounts of oestrogen. However the amount is too small to be a significant factor in breast cancer development. No studies suggest that today's low-dose combined oral contraceptives pose a cancer risk in any population.

However, a word of caution. Always buy birth control pills of reputable brands. There are certainly many in the market (black market that is) that we are not able to verify the oestrogen content.

6. Mammograms can spread breast cancer, or even cause it.
Mammogram uses x-ray radiation. Theoretically, radiation can cause breast cancer. However, the amount of radiation is so low that there is no doubt that mammograms are safe. In addition, the increase in risk is tiny compared to the benefit of finding and treating a cancer early. Many things we do expose us to slight increases in radiation - flying in a plane for example - but we don't always think it is sensible to stop doing them.The effective radiation dose from a mammogram is about 0.7 mSv, which is about the same as the average person receives from background radiation in three months. Local regulation in Malaysia requires that each unit be checked by a medical physicist every year to ensure that the unit operates correctly. That makes mammogram a very safe procedure.

7. A lump in the breast is breast cancer.
A lump in the breast can indicate many things, not just cancer. More than 90% percent of lumps found are benign. In other words, only 1 in 10 breast lumps are cancers. If you feel a lump in your breast, have it checked by your doctor. He/she will decide on the best course of action for you.Remember that although 9 out of 10 lumps are benign, further examination and investigations are imperative. Do not let fear paralyse you. The sooner any problem is diagnosed, the sooner you can have it treated. It is far better to see the doctor and to set your mind at rest than agonise and hope it will go away. CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR!

8. Breast cancer only develops in one breast.
Breast cancer has the ability to develop, or spread in both breasts. In fact, individuals with previous history of breast cancer, have a higher risk than average of developing breast cancer in the other breast.

9. A mastectomy is the only treatment for breast cancer.
Mastectomy is surgical removal of a patient’s breast and losing a breast may means a lot to a women’s pride. However, mastectomy is not the only option for breast cancer. Most often, your doctor will opt for breast-sparing treatment options such as lumpectomy. Other treatment options are chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

10. Women with small breasts have a very low risk of developing breast cancer.
Unfortunately, breast cancer does not discriminate against large or small breasts. The amount of breast tissue a woman has does not affect her risk factor for developing breast cancer.

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