Learn the most common breast cancer myths for that interfere with early detection and prevention
Have you every woken up in the morning with a premonition? Perhaps it is not something you can describe, just a feeling. That happened to me over and again in spring 2017. My hand went instinctively to my breast and I did a quick check. Fine I thought, no lumps. My husband noticed and asked, “When was your last mammogram?” “Overdue,” I said. For the next week, he was relentless until I found a mobile mammogram bus in the city and set up an appointment. Within 24 hours of that preliminary mammogram, I returned for another more thorough exam. And so began my breast cancer journey. Yes, my husband saved my life.
As with most women, naturally my first thought was “Why me”? The only family member I knew with breast cancer was my mom’s mother, who smoked, so no surprise there. Since then, I’ve learned as much about what breast cancer is not as to what is it. So that you don’t fall in the same deep traps that I fell into, here is what I’ve learned about breast cancer myths.
MYTH 1: If I do not have a family history or a genetic mutation, I won’t get breast cancer.
In 2021, about 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S., plus another 49,290 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. As of January 2021, more than 3.8 million American women can say they have a history of breast cancer, which means they are either being treated or have finished treatment. Of these cases, only 5-to-10 percent of women who get breast cancer have a genetic mutation that may lead to breast cancer.
MYTH 2: If I eat healthy, manage my weight, exercise and don’t drink, I won’t get breast cancer.
Check, I did all of those things. I like to lead a healthy lifestyle. My doctor said true, those lifestyle choices reduce the risk, but they are not a failsafe. I talked with lots of girlfriends who had breast cancer, many of whom were more active than I, and they were told the same from their doctors. Most likely our cancer came from other factors.
MYTH 3: Breast cancer feels like a lump.
Not all breast cancer can be felt by touch. Eventually it may, but by then it has likely spread to your lymph nodes under the arm and beyond. This is why a regular mammogram is so important. If you have dense breast tissue, you may also need a sonogram to detect anything abnormal.
MYTH 4: All treatments for breasts cancer are the same.
I naively thought that my doctors would have an opinion on my best course of treatment. They gently advocated for their specialty, but in the end, the decision was entirely up to me. There are many ways to treat breast cancer with radiation, chemotherapy, lumpectomy and mastectomy. And there are as many options for reconstruction or not to have reconstruction.
I am the sort of person who wants to know everything before I make a big decision. I welcomed lots of opinions from very helpful women who had been through breast cancer. Each one had different circumstances: the grade of the cancer, the location, the amount of cancer, whether hormones influence its behavior, genetic risk factors, and other health conditions that may influence recovery and outcomes. Some women were more adamant than others about the choice I should make, even nurses gave me their opinion up to the last second before I went into the operating room. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I chose a double mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction and did not look back.
MYTH 5: When your treatment is over, you can kiss breast cancer goodbye.
I was so immersed in the present and all the decisions that needed to me made, I honestly didn’t think much about the after. It caught me by surprise. My oncologist, who too had breast cancer, picked up on it and sent me to a counselor. “This is not an option,” she said. “Call today.” I listened and picked up the pace for getting started on what I called, “on-the-other side” of my future life. Everything from that day on was my abcl – after breast-cancer life. I first met with the therapist. My oncologist was right, it was worth it to spill my guts. I then made massage and physical therapy appointments to get rid of painful scar tissue, increase my mobility and reduce the chances of lymphedema. I had my genome tested to figure out why I got cancer (yes, we figured it out). And, I enrolled in a cancer fitness class with other cancer patients. This latter decision was the best one of all. It was humbling to meet and work out with other cancer thrivers.
Above all, remember that early detection matters most. Lifestyle and genetics factors play a role in whether you will get breast cancer, but they aren’t always the only contributors to breast cancer.
Read about more breast cancer myths from the BreastCancer.org.
This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization in partnership with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
Kimberly Lord Stewart a breast cancer thriver and the content and marketing director for the Institute for Natural Medicine.
INM's team is made up of naturopathic doctors and health journalists.