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Breast cancer myths squashed

May 11, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A lump may not be the only reason for concern. And is a mastectomy always better than a lumpectomy? There's a lot of information out there about breast cancer, but consider this: much of what you know may not be fact at all. Kathy Connell was shocked five years ago when she learned she had breast cancer.

"The first thing that came to my mind was that they made a mistake," said Connell.

Kathy had no family history of the disease. Mark S. Shachner says it's a myth that no family history offers protection.

"Most people who do have a family history, it's just a coincidence that they also have breast cancer," says Dr. Shachner.

Seventy percent of women diagnosed have no known risk factors. A second myth is that all women have a 1 in 8 chance of getting the disease.

"One in eight of women by the time they're 85 will have had breast cancer," said Dr. Shachner.

But a woman in her 30s only has a 1 in 233 risk of getting the disease.

Myth number three: a mastectomy is better than a lumpectomy. This is not true.

"We can say that if you get a lumpectomy versus having your breast removed that you'll do better as far as cancer recurrence is concerned," said Dr. Shachner.

Another myth: smaller breasts decrease your risk of breast cancer. In this case, size doesn't matter.

The last myth that's vital to dispel is that breast cancer always shows up as a lump.

"Really, most breast cancers probably aren't preceded by a lump," said Dr. Shachner.

You should check for lumps but also look for redness, swelling, dimpling, nipple pain or skin thickening. Kathy did feel a lump, and it saved her life.

"If I hadn't found my cancer when I did, I would be living a very different story," said Connell.

Today, she's happy to say that she is cancer free.

The American Cancer Society recommends a clinical breast exam, about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over. Also, yearly mammograms starting at age 40. Women at higher risk should get an MRI and a mammogram every year.

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