False Beliefs about Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. There are many shared ideas and false beliefs about breast cancer; including one where it is believed that women who have smaller breasts are less likely to develop breast cancer, breast cancer usually comes with pain, and screening mammograms can actually cause breast cancer. Our doctor already answered these questions below.

Breast cancer – the most common cancer affecting women worldwide

From National Cancer Institute’s registry, there are 20,000 new breast cancer patients each year or 55 women per day and the number is increasing each year. In USA, there are 40,450 breast cancer deaths in 2015. In 2016, there are 246,660 women with distant metastasis breast cancer and 61,000 women with non-metastatic disease. (Data from www.breastcancer.org) Dr. Satit Srimontayamas, a surgical oncologist at Wattanosoth Hospital, explained that the fundamental cause of breast cancer remains unknown. Researchers have identified hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors that may increase your risk of breast cancer. But it is not clear why some people who have no risk factors develop cancer, yet other people with risk factors never do. Factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include: If your mother, sister or daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, particularly at a young age, your risk of breast cancer is increased; beginning your period before age 12 or beginning menopause after age 55 increases your risk of breast cancer; women who have never been pregnant have a greater risk of breast cancer; women who take hormone therapy medications to treat the signs and symptoms of menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer. Also, drinking alcohol or taking oral contraceptive pill may increase the risk.

Symptoms, staging, and curative rate

Breast cancer is described as a silent disease. Dr. Satit explained that early-stage breast cancer can be negative during palpation. Only 10% of the patients feel that the lump is painful. The symptoms may include a breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue, change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast, changes to the skin, and redness of the skin. If the tumor is 1-2 centimeters and has not spread to lymph nodes, this is stage 1 breast cancer. If the tumor is bigger than 2 centimeters or has spread to lymph nodes, this is described as stage 2 or 3 breast cancer. Stage 0 is used to describe non-invasive breast cancers and there is a chance of 95-100% cure. If the disease is found in stage 1, the curative rate is 90%. The curative rates for stage 2 and 3 are 70-80%, and 60-70% respectively.

Prevention and Treatment

Women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast-self exams at least one a month. This help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your doctor if there are any changes. Early detection of breast cancer can make the disease easier to treat. For women over 40 years old, it is recommended to have screening mammogram and breast ultrasound yearly. If an abnormality is detected, a doctor may perform a biopsy to determine whether the cells are cancerous. Treatments for breast cancer are surgery for non-metastatic breast cancer, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy. Operations used to treat breast cancer include: breast-conserving surgery, mastectomy – removing the entire breast, and removing the entire breast with breast reconstruction. If your breast cancer has a high risk of returning or spreading to another part of your body, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is also used in women whose cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy may be recommended to try to control the cancer and decrease any symptoms the cancer is causing. If the cancer has spread to non-vital organs such as skin and bone, patients will be able to live longer than those whose cancer has spread to vital organs such as liver and lung. For advanced breast cancer patients, palliative care will be offered to improve quality of life and make and relieve symptoms.

False beliefs about breast cancer

Myth: High fat diet leads to breast cancer. Fact: There is no research showing that breast cancer risk is related to dietary fat intake. However, high-fat diets can lead to being overweight or obese, which is a breast cancer risk factor. Overweight women are thought to be at higher risk for breast cancer because the extra fat cells make estrogen, which can cause extra breast cell growth. This extra growth increases the risk of breast cancer. Myth: Sleeping in a bra leads to breast cancer. Fact: According to the myth, wearing your bra every night or for too long daily prevents your pores from being able to breathe. Sweat accumulates and toxins build up which are believed to cause breast cancer. However, there is no evidence that wearing a bra for too long or sleeping in a bra can increase the risk of breast cancer. Myth: I don’t have to worry about breast cancer because no one in my family has breast cancer. Fact: Only 10% of breast cancer patients have family history of the disease. Having a relative with breast cancer does increase your risk. But other factors such as age, being overweight, alcohol use, and hormone therapy after menopause can also increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Myth: Women who have smaller breasts have less chance of getting breast cancer. Fact: There is no connection between the size of your breasts and your risk of getting breast cancer. All women, regardless of breast size, should commit to routine screenings and checkups. Myth: Annual mammograms expose you to so much radiation that they increase your risk of cancer. Fact: While it is true that radiation is used in mammography, the amount is so small that any associated risks are tiny when compared to the huge preventive benefits reaped from the test.

Reference: Dr. Satit Srimontayamas, a surgical oncologist, Breast Center, Wattanosoth Hospital