Breast Cancer: Fact vs. Fiction

Today’s blog entry comes to us from Dr. Sarah Wistreich, staff physician here at the Center for Women’s Health:

Breast cancer is a topic that I frequently get asked about by all age groups.  With statistics as high as they are – 1 in every 8 women will get breast cancer by the time we are 80 – most of us do wonder whether we will be part of those statistics. The concern is even more relevant for those of us that have relatives with breast cancer.  My grandmother had breast cancer in her 70s and opted for a bilateral radical mastectomy. Treatment options were very different back then, but before I became a doctor I wondered if I would be faced with this diagnosis some day. That is why it is important to understand breast cancer facts vs. fiction. 

  • Examining my breasts each month with reduce my chances of breast cancer:  FICTION

Two large studies have shown that women who performed self breast examinations had no difference in breast cancer mortality than women who did NOT perform self breast examinations.  The studies also showed that the group who did self breast exams had twice as many breast biopsies but did not find more cancers. What IS recommended is a yearly clinical breast exam done by a physician

  • I can have a mammogram before I am 40:  FACT

Mammography screening is recommended by most physicians to start at age 40. If a woman has a family history of breast cancer in a first degree relative, she should start getting mammograms 10 years prior to the age that the first degree relative was diagnosed at.  If a mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 42, her daughter should get her first mammogram at age 32. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or molecular breast imaging (MBI) can be useful adjuncts to mammography based on one’s risk factors and breast types. This should be discussed with a physician. 

  • My chances of breast cancer are higher because my grandmother had breast cancer:  FICTION

A woman with a first degree relative (mother, father, brother, sister, child) with breast cancer is twice as likely to have breast cancer.  If she has more than one first degree relative with the diagnosis, the risk can go up 3-4 times. This is not true if the woman’s mother was over the age of 50.

  • I can reduce my risk of breast cancer:  FACT

There are a few lifestyle choices that women can make that can decrease their breast cancer risk. Maintaining a healthy weight is very important. Your goal for body mass index (BMI) should be between 20 and 25.  Adding exercise into your routine can also decrease your risk. Your goal should be 150 minutes per week of sweaty activity. Limiting alcohol intake can be beneficial.  Studies show that women who drank more than two drinks per day had an increased risk of up to 20% for breast cancer. If you become pregnant, breastfeeding can also decrease your breast cancer risk. 

And now, a little breast cancer fiction trivia:

So what has been shown NOT to increase your breast cancer risk? Hair dyes, abortions, miscarriages, plastics, breast implants, bras, deodorant/antiperspirant use, fertility drugs and breast trauma have not been linked to increased risks of breast cancer. 

You should discuss your risk factors with your physician and come up with a plan for your breast health. Remember the importance of knowing your family history and of the yearly clinical breast exam done by your physician.  Although genes play a large role in some breast cancers, a healthy lifestyle is very important in the prevention of breast cancer in your future. 

For the full version of this article, please visit:

This entry was posted in Womens Health and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.