Breast cancer myths busted: Diagnosis, treatment and types

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Breast cancer death rates have declined almost 40 percent between 1989 and 2015. Veuer’s Sam Berman has the full story.
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Breast cancer is easily the most well-known type of cancer, but do people really know specifics? 

Jennifer Litton, associate professor of breast medical oncology at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, said new treatment options have changed what a diagnosis of breast cancer means today. 

Here are a few myths — busted:

I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. So, I won’t get it. This is one of the biggest myths Litton hears. Only about 2 out of 10 people diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history, according to the American Cancer Society. “Just because you don’t have a family history, does not mean you are safe,” Litton said. 

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If you have breast cancer, you’ll have to get a mastectomy. Mastectomies are not as commonly recommended as they were in the past. Even when a patient opts for a mastectomy, the surgery is likely not a radical mastectomy, where the entire breast is removed, but it’s usually partial, skin-sparing, simple or modified, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Some researchers say 70% of mastectomies in women with breast cancer are unnecessary, because healthy breast tissue isn’t proven to significantly lower risk of recurrence. Often, breast-conserving surgery such as radiation can be done to spare the breast. “In the vast majority of cases, having a mastectomy does not change the overall survival of cancer they’ve been diagnosed with,” Litton said. Having a mastectomy only lowers breast cancer risk in the removed breast, but doesn’t lower cancer risk in other parts of the body, the American Cancer Society says. 

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Everyone with breast cancer needs chemotherapy. While treatment can include chemotherapy (which causes hair loss), it might not. A lot depends on the size of the cancer and the patient’s biology, Litton said. Surgery and radiation are among other treatment options available to patients. 

Only lumps that are painful are cancerous. Cancerous lumps can be painful or painless. Any lump that persists for two weeks should be evaluated by a medical professional, Litton said. 

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Breast cancer is a death sentence. The majority of those diagnosed with stage III, stage II and stage I breast cancer survive at least 5 years after diagnosis, according to data from the American Cancer Society. Metastatic or stage IV breast cancers have a 5-year survival rate of about 22%. 

A good diet can prevent and treat cancer. Litton said many diagnosed with breast cancer look for a “magic diet,” but the reality is “the patient is not in control of the cancer.” With that being said, a low-sugar, plant-based diet can help overall health.

Men can’t get breast cancer. While breast cancer in men is rare (less than 1% of all breast cancers), it happens. This is because men have breast tissue. Old age, high estrogen levels, radiation exposure, alcohol consumption, a strong family history of breast cancer, or genetic mutations can all increase a man’s risk of breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society

There’s one type of breast cancer. There are more than a dozen types of breast cancer. Common kinds are carcinomas, tumors that grow in organs and tissues. Most breast cancers are a type of carcinoma called adenocarcinoma that starts in the milk ducts or milk-producing glands. But, there are other kinds of breast cancer that start in the cells of muscle, fat or connective tissue. Visit cancer.org for more information on types and treatments of breast cancer.  

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