Many myths and misconceptions surround breast cancer, the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women, according to Robbi Kempner, MD, FACS, Medical Director of Breast and Women’s Health Prevention Services at Montefiore Nyack Hospital. “Knowing the facts about breast cancer is important in order get the right diagnosis and treatment,” she says. Here are some of the more common myths she hears from patients:
Myth: There’s nothing I can do to decrease my risk of breast cancer.
Fact: Living a healthy lifestyle can help decrease your risk. This includes vigorous exercise two to three times a week, a low-fat diet high in whole grains, having no more than one alcoholic drink a day, not smoking, and keeping your weight under control after menopause.
Myth: Having a “breast cancer gene” such as BRCA1 or 2 means I will definitely develop breast cancer.
Fact: Not everyone with a breast cancer gene will develop breast cancer. It’s true that women with one of these genes have a higher risk. According to the National Cancer Institute, 12% of women in the general population will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives, while 55 to 65% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and around 45 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70.
Myth: Breast cancer is less of a risk after age 70.
Fact: Quite the opposite – the risk of all cancer, including breast cancer, increases with age. “Although guidelines generally recommend that women over 70 discontinue mammograms, we advise all women should continue to be screened with mammography as long as they remain healthy and vigorous and have a reasonable life expectancy,” Dr. Kempner says.
Myth: If I feel a lump that doesn’t show up on a mammogram, it can’t be cancer.
Fact: “If you’ve recently had a mammogram that didn’t show any signs of cancer, and you then find a lump, it doesn’t mean it’s not cancer,” Dr. Kempner says. Overall, screening mammograms miss about 20 percent of breast cancers that are present at the time of screening, according to the National Cancer Institute. If you feel something that did not show up on a mammogram, see a breast health physician for advice and consultation and a further workup.
Myth: There’s just one type of mammogram.
Fact: A new 3D mammogram exam is more effective in detecting earlier cancers, and decreases the need for women to get called back for additional mammography. “This type of mammogram is very good for women with dense breasts, which can make it harder for a radiologist reading the mammogram to see the cancer,” Dr. Kempner says. The Breast Center at Montefiore Nyack Hospital is one of the few local providers in the Rockland County area to offer this technology.
Myth: If I’m diagnosed with breast cancer, I must have surgery immediately.
Fact: Although it’s understandable that a woman would want immediate treatment, it’s safe to take a little time to get a second opinion, and make sure you have the right information about the type of surgery and other treatment that is best for you.
Myth: Having a mastectomy to treat breast cancer is more likely than having a lumpectomy to increase a woman’s life expectancy.
Fact: The life expectancy and survival rates are the same for most breast cancers whether a woman is treated with a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. It’s true that there is a small risk that breast cancer may return after a lumpectomy with radiation. However, in those cases, a woman who goes on to have a mastectomy has the same survival rate and life expectancy as a woman who had a mastectomy right after diagnosis.
Myth: Breast cancer surgery hasn’t changed in recent years.
Fact: There have been a number of advances in the field, including a new procedure called Radioactive Seed Localization. With this technique, the surgeon implants a self-enclosed, low-energy “seed” (the size of a grain of rice), which allows the surgeon to precisely target and remove small breast cancer tumors. Montefiore Nyack Hospital is the only hospital in the area offering this innovative procedure.
Myth: Breast cancer surgery always results in ugly scars.
Fact: Although breast surgery does involve leaving scars, it’s possible to hide them so they’re not visible. “At Montefiore Nyack Hospital, we use the Hidden Scar approach, in which we place the incision in a location that is hard to see, so the scar isn’t visible when your incision heals,” Dr. Kempner says. As a result, you have little to no visible reminder of the surgery or your cancer. It’s even possible to have a mastectomy with reconstruction without a visible scar.
Myth: Mastectomies require removing all of the breast tissue including the skin and nipple.
Fact: New nipple and skin-saving techniques have been developed that are just as effective at removing cancer and just as safe as a traditional surgery. The main difference is the benefit to the patient in her post-surgical appearance. These procedures are part of the new field called oncoplastic surgery, a coordinated breast cancer surgery with breast oncologic surgeons and plastic surgeons who use the latest oncologic and reconstruction techniques for best possible survival and cosmetic outcomes.
For additional information about The Breast Center at Montefiore Nyack Hospital and services provided, please call 845-348-8551.