Detecting breast cancer myths

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 8, 2005

There is much fear and confusion at the core of myths about breast cancer. However, the truth is breast cancer detection and treatment has improved greatly in the past decade. Here are seven myths you shouldn't allow to stop you from getting the care you need.

Myth: Breast cancer has become an epidemic in young women.

Reality: Although more women are at risk, 95 percent of breast cancer patients are still women ages 40 and over, and more than three quarters are ages 50 and over.

Myth: Breast cancer kills more women than any other disease.

Reality: More American women die from heart disease and lung cancer. In addition, women with breast cancer have a five-year survival rate of 96 percent if their cancer has not spread beyond the breast at the time of diagnosis. Early diagnosis is the key to survival.

Myth: Women without a history of breast cancer are not at risk.

Reality: The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no close relation (mother, sister, daughter) who has the disease. For this reason, all women need to follow the American Cancer Society's screening recommendations.

Myth: Mammograms are painful.

Reality: Modern mammography equipment is designed to minimize the degree of discomfort, but compression of the breast is essential for high quality mammograms. Since breasts can be tender just before or after menstruation, it may be better to schedule a mammogram at a different time.

Myth: Underwire bras and underarm antiperspirant cause breast cancer.

Reality: This rumor spread rapidly by e-mail, but no studies have ever shown that using or wearing these products has ever increased the risk of, much less caused, breast cancer. The biggest factors are being female and getting older.

Myth: Detecting breast cancer automatically means losing a breast.

Reality: At one time, a mastectomy was considered standard therapy, but now many women have more than one choice. The choice of lumpectomy and radiation is much more common.

Myth: Mammograms are expensive and not covered by insurance.

Reality: Mammogram coverage by private health plans is mandated by most states, including Alabama. Coverage is also provided by Medicare, Medicaid, public employee health plans and most self-insured plans. Each plan is different, so check coverage details ahead of time. Women who are uninsured should research low-cost mammography programs in their area.

For additional breast health and cancer information, contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or visit