1. Myth #1: Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family, so I’m less likely to get it.
A strong family history predicts breast cancer in only 5-10% of women in the US. In fact, 80% of breast cancer cases occur in women with no known family history of breast cancer whatsoever.
2. Myth #2: A lump in my breast means that I have breast cancer.
Lumps are usually (80% of the time) not breast cancer. Breast tissue can be fairly lumpy in normal breasts, and these normal lumps often come and go with hormonal changes in the monthly cycle. A lump that doesn’t come and go – or is hard to move around when you touch it, is more concerning.
Some breast cancer (inflammatory breast cancer) looks like a swelling with skin changes, not necessarily a painless lump. In those cases, a swollen, reddish or purplish breast with skin dimpling or nipple changes may be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
3. Myth #3: My mammogram showed an abnormality, so I must have breast cancer.
Actually, radiologists use the word “abnormality” in a very general sense. It could mean that the image doesn’t show the entire breast, that there is a shadow on the film, or that there could be a cyst present. Of course you should follow up immediately on any “abnormal” mammogram – but don’t worry too much about the result until you have follow up tests to confirm what the “abnormality” is.
4. Myth #4: I won’t get breast cancer.
This is the most common myth. I actually created a mini-documentary, thanks to a grant from Johnson & Johnson, about the life of Hester Schnipper. She is a breast cancer social worker, and devoted her life to counseling women with breast cancer. Her husband is a breast cancer oncologist. Imagine her surprise when she herself got breast cancer – twice. It’s an amazing story of two breast cancer experts living through the realities of being a patient. I’d encourage everyone to watch the video on the J&J YouTube Health Channel.
Here are the three parts of the documentary: