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Breast Cancer Myths

What's fact and fiction when it comes to taking care of "your girls."
From Breastcancer.org and the book Taking Care of Your "Girls"
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Myth 1: If breast cancer runs in your family, it automatically means that you’re going to get it, too.

Fact: Getting breast cancer is not a certainty, even if you have one of the significant risk factors, like a strong family history or a known breast cancer gene abnormality. For example, of women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited genetic abnormality, 40 to 80 percent will develop breast cancer over their lifetime; 20 to 60 percent won't. All other breast cancer risk factors are associated with a much, much lower probability of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Myth 2: Only your mother's family history of breast cancer can affect your risk.

Fact: A history of breast cancer in your mother's OR your father's family equally influence your risk. That's because half of your genes come from your mother, half from your father. But a man with a breast-cancer gene abnormality is less likely to develop breast cancer than a woman with a similar gene. So, if you want to learn more about your father's family history, you have to look mainly at the women on your father's side, not just the men.

Myth 3: Breast cancer skips generations.

Fact: Genes that could increase the risk for breast cancer can go from one generation to the next, without skipping a generation. If your mother or father has a breast-cancer gene abnormality, you have a 50 percent risk of getting the gene and a 50 percent chance of not getting it. If you don’t get the gene, then you can’t pass it to your children.

Myth 4: Since I have no family history of breast cancer, I can’t get it.

Fact: Breast cancer is extremely rare in girls. Every adult woman has some risk of breast cancer. About 80 percent of women who get breast cancer have no known family history of the disease. Besides being a woman, growing older—just the wear and tear of living—is the biggest single risk factor for breast cancer. For those women who do have a family history of breast cancer, your risk may be elevated a little, a lot, or not at all. If you are concerned, discuss your family history with your physician or a genetic counselor. You may be worrying needlessly.

Myth 5: There is nothing you can do to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer. If it is going to happen, it will happen.

Fact: There are many things you can do to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer: keep to a healthy weight, exercise 3 to 4 hours a week, don't smoke, limit alcohol use to 5 or fewer drinks per week, eat 5 to 9 fruits and vegetables a day; limit your consumption of red meat, fried foods, and blackened grilled foods; and buy organic and hormone-free foods whenever possible.

Myth 6: Mammograms help prevent breast cancer.

Fact: Mammograms can save lives but they do not prevent breast cancer. They help detect breast cancer in its earliest stages when it’s most treatable, thereby improving your chance of surviving breast cancer by 30 percent or more.

Myth 7: Big breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Fact: Breast size has no significant impact on the risk of developing breast cancer.

Myth 8: You can catch breast cancer from your mom when she was pregnant with you or through her breast milk.

Fact: Absolutely not. Breast cancer is not transmitted during pregnancy or breast milk.

Myth 9: Cell phones, antiperspirants, and tanning cause breast cancer.

Fact: There is no evidence that these factors increase the risk of breast cancer. Tanning in the sun or in salons does increase the risk of skin cancer. It’s important to use sunscreen, limit time in the sun, and avoid tanning salons to reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Myth 10: A breast cancer diagnosis is an automatic death sentence.

Fact: Most women survive breast cancer and can live long lives. Even women who are living with breast cancer can live a long time. Plus new promising treatment breakthroughs are becoming available each day, so there are many reasons to be hopeful about the future.

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