10 Greatest Myths About Breast Cancer

Early detection is the best protection. Breast cancer found early can usually be treated successfully.


Myth 1: Young women don't get breast cancer

  • Breast cancer can occur at any age
  • Risk increases with age
  • 1 out of 2,212 breast cancer diagnoses will be a 30-year-old woman

A woman's chance of breast cancer Increases with age:
• By age 30 - 1 out of 2,212
• By age 40 - 1 out of 235
• By age 50 - 1 out of 54
• By age 60 - 1 out of 23
• By age 70 - 1 out of 14
• By age 80 - 1 out of 10
• Every -1 out of 8

Myth 2: A negative mammogram means you don't have breast cancer

  • 10 - 15% of breast cancers are missed on mammography
  • Some lumps can only be felt and not seen on mammography because of the density of the lump
  • 26% of cancers detected last year were found on mammography as calcifications


• A mammogram needs to be coupled with a yearly clinical breast exam and a monthly breast self-exam
• A clinical exam may find changes in the breast that would require additional evaluation with other screening tests such as ultrasound or dedicated breast MRI

Myth 3: Finding a lump is the only way a woman can detect breast cancer

• Some cancers don’t form a lump
• A visual exam of the breasts can often show symptoms that need to be reported to a health care provider

Other symptoms include:

• Discharge from one breast
• Inversion of a normally everted nipple
• Dimpling-a pulling in of the breast skin
• Bulge-area of raised tissues on one breast
• Itching, irritated or scaly nipple with/without discharge
• Rapidly increasing pain with redness or rash
• Rapid increase in size of one breast
• Changes in the shape of a breast
• Change in vein patterns on one breast

Myth 4: No history of breast cancer in your family means you never have to worry about having it

• All women are at risk
• Last year, 76% of women diagnosed with breast cancer had no family history of breast cancer
• The greatest risk is being female

Myth 5: A mother's family history of breast cancer is the only important history

• A father’s history is equally important
• Hereditary breast cancer is caused by inheriting a mutated gene from either your father or mother
• History needs to include the previous two generations because hereditary breast cancer can skip a generation

Myth 6: The most important risk factor is the number of relatives who have had breast cancer

• Age of occurrence is more important than the number of relatives diagnosed
• Early age of diagnosis is a red flag for hereditary breast cancer
• Equally important is a family history of ovarian cancer or having bilateral cancer (both breasts)
• A relative having both breast and ovarian cancer is highly suspicious for hereditary breast cancer

Myth 7: Breast cancer should be removed immediately before it spreads

• Most cancers 1 cm in size have been in the breast for 8 - 10 years when detected
• Breast cancer starts when one cell becomes malignant and begins a doubling process that continues until it reaches a size that can be detected by breast exam or on a mammogram
• Doubling process ranges from 29 to 220 days
• Breast cancer is not usually a medical emergency, with the exception of inflammatory breast cancer

Myth 8: All breast cancer patients receive the same treatment

• There are 15 different types of breast cancer
• Each type can vary greatly in aggressiveness of growth
• There is no longer a cookie-cutter approach to treatment as there was years ago
• Every woman’s cancer is uniquely unique
• Treatments are designed from careful study of:

  • Tumor type
  • Size
  • Spread of cancer to other sites
  • Individual characteristics of cancer
  • Age and general health


• Surgery
• Radiation Therapy
• Chemotherapy


• Lumpectomy
• Mastectomy

  • With or without reconstruction

Radiation Therapy

Adjuvant Therapy

  • Chemotherapy
    • Neoadjuvant
    • Post-surgical
  • Hormonal therapy

Myth 9: Breast cancer is the number one enemy of women

• The number one enemy is NOT breast cancer but the late detection of breast cancer
• Breast cancer detected early can usually be treated successfully

Myth 10: High risk women can't do anything about their risks

• High risk women because of family history or an identified carrier of the breast cancer gene can do something about their risks
• Stop smoking
• Limit alcohol intake
• Exercise
• Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet
• Get a mammogram on a recommended schedule
• Have clinical exams regularly
• Ask your physician about talking with a genetic counselor

Genetic Testing: Who Should Be Tested?

• Individuals with a personal or family history of breast cancer before age 50 or ovarian cancer at any age
• Individuals with two or more primary diagnoses of breast and/or ovarian cancer
• Individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent with a personal or family history of breast cancer before age 50 or ovarian cancer at any age
• Male breast cancer patients

BRCA1 or BRCA2 Testing

• For genetic testing, a blood sample is drawn and sent to a lab to see if an inherited, mutated gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2) is present DNA is present in all body cells
• Test person with cancer first if possible
• The mutated gene can come from the mother or father

How are people tested?

• Blood test

  • DNA in every cell in body

• Test person with cancer first if possible

  • Testing of relatives to determine if they carry gene if person with cancer test positive

Women who test positive for hereditary breast cancer are offered:

  • High risk surveillance
  • Chemoprevention
  • Prophylactic surgery

High Risk Surveillance

  • Monthly breast self-exams starting at age 18 to 21 and annual or semiannual clinical breast exams, beginning between ages 25 to 35
  • Yearly mammography or dedicated breast MRI beginning between ages 25 to 35
  • Annual or semiannual transvaginal ultrasound and testing for CA-125 to detect ovarian cancer beginning between the ages of 25 to 35


  • Drugs such as Tamoxifen may significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer in women with BRCA mutations
  • Oral contraceptives have been associated with up to a 60% reduction in the risk of ovarian cancer in women with BRCA mutations when taken for six or more years

Prophylactic Surgery

  • Prophylactic mastectomy reduces the risk of breast cancer by at least 90% in women with BRCA mutations
  • Prophylactic oophorectomy reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 96% and simultaneously reduces the risk of breast cancer by approximately 50 percent in women with BRCA mutations