Do you Know your Breast Cancer Risks?

breast cancer awareness month logo During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am stepping out of my role as creator and writer for “Can Do Street, and stepping into my breast cancer survivor advocacy role. As a survivor of two primary breast cancers, 10 years apart, I’m asking you to consider what you know about your risks for breast cancer.

First, let me share that I am here today because of annual mammograms that found my cancers when they were still small and easy to treat. I didn’t need chemotherapy for either cancer because both were caught very early, before they spread beyond my breasts.

A few years after my first breast cancer, in 1999, I accepted a position as director of  the American Cancer Society’s NYC Patient Navigator Program. During the years I  was with the program, I met with thousands of women and several men diagnosed with breast cancer. Many believed the myths I share below; as a result they did not bother with comprehensive breast exams or, if over 40, annual mammograms.

From 2010 to 2014, I published a breast cancer blog. This experience continues to bring me in contact with women and men newly diagnosed with breast cancer, many of whom felt they had nothing to worry about as a result of believing one or more of the myths that circulate about breast cancer.

Sometimes we embrace myths about breast cancer rather than deal with the realities of the disease. Unfortunately myths can paralyze us and put us in danger. Here are some myths about breast cancer, that many accept as facts:

1. Breast Cancer Doesn’t Run in My Family, I’m Safe – Eighty to eighty-five percent of women who get breast cancer have no family history of the disease.

2. I’m Too Young for Breast Cancer – Breast cancer can affect women of any age. While the disease is more common in post-menopausal women, 5% of women diagnosed are between the ages of 20 and 39 years.

3. Breast Cancer Is a Death Sentence – When caught early, up to 98 percent of women survive at least five years.

4. All Breast Lumps Are Cancerous – Most breast lumps are not cancer, but all lumps should be checked thoroughly by a doctor.

5. Herbal Remedies and Dietary Supplements Can Help Treat Breast Cancer – No herbal remedy, dietary supplement or alternative therapy has been scientifically proven to treat breast cancer.

6. My Breast Lump is Painful, So it Must Not be Cancer – Not true; there’s no correlation between whether the lump is painful and whether it’s cancerous. Any lump needs to be checked by a doctor.

7. Breast Cancer is a Punishment from God- no, it is a disease

8. Stress Causes Breast Cancer – it doesn’t

9. Breast Cancer Jumps from one Breast to the Other – it doesn’t

10.Touching yourself in performing a breast exam is wrong- no, it can save your life

11. Men don’t get breast cancer– yes, they do

12. Mammograms hurt-not as much as childbirth

Risk Factors:

  • Having breast tissue
  • Aging
  • Genetic factors – BRCA gene mutations
  • Being significantly overweight
  • Having dense breasts
  • Moderate to heavy drinking
  • Taking hormone replacement therapy

Additional Facts:

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer
  • One in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.
  • Today there are more than 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

Until we can prevent breast cancer, early detection is critical to surviving !

  • If you are under 40, with no known risk factors, get a comprehensive breast exam when you get your annual pap test. If you are over 40, get an annual mammogram. Make it digital!
  • Don’t let being uninsured keep you from getting a mammogram or a pap smear. Call your local Dept. of Health and ask them to guide you in accessing services from the Federal Center for Disease Control’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP),

Please share these myths, facts and risks about breast cancer with the women in your life.

 

Sources: American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health

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