December 7, 2010

Some Popular Facts And Myths About Breast Cancer

In the United States, breast cancer is diagnosed in more women than any other type of cancer. Unfortunately, about 39,840 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2010 from breast cancer. With statistics like these, it is no wonder that myths and fears about breast cancer seem easier to find than actual facts.

Without getting too technical, cancer is caused by a mutation in the genes that are responsible for the growth of cells. In the case of breast cancer, this would mean a mutation in the cell-generating part of mammary cells. The mutation causes the cells to generate at a faster pace out of control and with no order, which causes a growth or lump (tumor). Benign lumps are not dangerous to your health and are considered non-cancerous, while malignant tumors are potentially dangerous. Breast cancer is a malignant tumor in the breast tissue.

Women should check for lumps on their breasts or changes in the appearance of their breasts on a regular basis. Health professionals advise that women should do a monthly self-check of their breasts. If you notice any changes in the texture of your breasts, especially around the nipple, have your breasts checked out by a medical professional. Other signs to watch for are skin dimpling or puckering on the breast, discharge from the nipples that is not clear and comes out on its own, and changes in the color of the skin of the breasts.

Because of the technical nature and unknown cause of cancers, there are many myths that are created about how cancer is caused, how it is treated, and how it is prevented. So many people have known someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, or someone who has been touched with the disease by way of a relative. It seems as if everywhere you turn, breast cancer is being talked about on television and other news media. It is no wonder that many people are fearful of developing breast cancer. Below are some myths and some little known facts about breast cancer. Use this knowledge in your arsenal to fight the disease, and possibly help someone else who may be unsure about what breast cancer really is.

Wearing a bra while you sleep can cause breast cancer.

Myth. What you wear and how your breasts are handled will not determine whether you get can cancer or not. As stated above, cancer is caused by mutated cells. The mutation happens at a level that is not related to the surface of your breasts, where your clothing touches you.

Stress causes breast cancer.

Partial Myth. There are many doctors who have done research on this topic and have concluded that stress actually does cause cancers. However, this is not a proven fact that is accepted by all of the medical community. At any rate, it is a good idea to stay relaxed and keep yourself in as stress-free an environment as possible. Stress does cause our immune system to act differently, which may allow for a higher risk of our bodies to succumb to cancer-causing situations.

Eating red meat can increase your risk of breast cancer.

Partial Myth. According to a Harvard medical survey conducted in 2007, eating red meat that has been injected with hormones may create a higher risk of breast cancer. This is because of the belief that hormones like estrogen and progesterone create a higher risk of breast cancer in women. However, the Harvard study was not a medical experiment and therefore was not considered conclusive. The women who answered in the survey that they ate more than 1 ½ servings of red meat daily appeared twice as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Other factors such as smoking and alcohol use may have played a role in the diagnosis, but were not included in the survey.

Breast cancer can be inherited from your mother/grandmother.

Fact. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is possible to inherit mutated genes that may increase your risk of breast cancer. There are tests that can be done that will help doctors determine whether you have inherited a genetic link to breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about these tests if you have a family history of breast cancer. Remember, though, there are many other factors that may put you at higher risk for getting breast cancer (estrogen lifetime exposure, alcohol/cigarette use, etc).

Breast cancer is preventable.

Partial Fact. Although you cannot change some risk factors for getting cancer (such as the genetic factors discussed above), there are some risk factors that you have control over. For example, you can control whether you smoke, drink alcohol, and eat red meat. These habits are considered to be factors that increase the risk of cancers. Also, because of the link found between hormones and breast cancer, you can control whether you take oral contraceptives which contain high levels of hormones, and whether you choose hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause or a hysterectomy.

Using deodorants that contain aluminum can cause breast cancer.

Myth. Early in the year 2000, an email circulated that warned women about the use of antiperspirants and deodorants as the chemicals in these products were absorbed in the skin under the arm and were linked to breast cancer. There were many medical studies that were conducted in the years that followed, but none were able to prove that there was an absolute link between using deodorants and antiperspirants. Therefore, it was determined that a conclusive link between using these products and getting breast cancer could not be found.

Breast cancer does not affect women of color.

Myth. This is a myth that is dangerous to the African-American community because it is the basis of why many African-American women do not get checked for breast cancer. Yes, a breast cancer diagnosis is less common in African Americans than whites. However, it’s also more deadly. Evidence suggests that among African-American women younger than age 40, the incidence of breast cancer is higher than in whites, and often the tumors are more aggressive when found. A reason for this startling information is that African-American women may not visit the doctor on a regular basis (due to fear of stigma, financial, or other reasons) and have fallen for the myth that breast cancer is a disease that only affects white women. When many women of color act on a lump or cause for concern that is found in her breast, it is after much time has passed, and the stage of the cancer is more serious than had the lump been found earlier.

The most important fact is that the outlook on treatment for breast cancer that is detected early is positive. Therefore, if you notice anything that looks different about your breasts, it is best to consult a physician immediately. There is a better chance that the cancer is small and has not spread with early detection. Also, if you have concerns about your risk factors for breast cancer, talk to your doctor. As stated before, there are new technologies that can be used to determine whether you are at a higher risk factor for breast cancer. With knowledge from these new tests, you can be better equipped to make an informed decision about a course of action, such as having more frequent mammograms.  The best advice is to stay positive and know that there are people and resources that can help you through the stressful time of dealing with breast cancer. Until a cure is found, the one thing that women can do is commit to spreading facts instead of myths about the disease.

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