Myths and Facts About Breast Cancer
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The National Cancer Institute estimates 266,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 — that’s one in eight women. More than 40,000 will die from the disease this year.
The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the chances of recovery and survival. In the earliest stages, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. If the cancer has spread to local lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate drops to 85 percent. If the cancer metastasizes to more distant parts of the body, the rate falls to 27 percent.
People with a family history of breast disease or a mutation in a breast cancer risk gene such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, are at higher risk of developing cancer. In addition, age, high levels of radiation, elevated levels of estrogen (which can be caused by genetic conditions), other diseases, some kinds of medical treatment and lifestyle can increase a person’s risk of breast cancer.
Myth: No one in my family has cancer so I am not at risk.
Fact: “Less than 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to genetics or linked to genes that you get from your family,” said UCLA oncologist Dr. Parvin Peddi, an assistant clinical professor in medicine and member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “So just because no one in your family has breast cancer does not mean you cannot get it. In fact, more than 90 percent of breast cancers are not linked to any family history whatsoever.”
Myth: Sugar causes breast cancer.
Fact: “While simple carbohydrates are not good for anyone, sugar does not cause breast cancer or any other cancer in particular,” Peddi said. “Therefore, there’s no reason to completely eliminate sugar from your diet.”
To help protect your health and reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, the American Cancer Society recommends that women eat mostly vegetables, fruits and whole grains and to cut back on eating red meats, processed meat and sweets.
Myth: There is nothing I can do to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Fact: “Actually exercise, maintaining good body weight and limiting the intake of alcohol all have been linked to decreased risk of breast cancer,” Peddi said.
In fact, even just a few alcoholic drinks a week is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women. Peddi recommends less than three drinks a week for women to help lower their risk. Many studies have also found that physical activity has been associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity every week.
Myth: Early detection of breast cancer won’t change my prognosis.
Fact: “When patients come to my clinic with early breast cancer, I can actually help cure them of the disease. When the cancer is discovered at a later stage, the chances of a cure are much less achievable,” Peddi said. “So it does make a difference to get your mammograms on time as recommended to help catch the disease at an early stage.”
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests women begin regular mammograms at age 50. The American Cancer Society recommends starting these tests at age 45. Talk with your doctor about the best time to begin mammography screening.