by Chad Harston, MD, Lexington Clinic Center for Breast Care
Unfortunately, breast cancer is common in developed countries like the USA.  Therefore, breast health should be a high priority for women here.  Early detection of breast cancer plays an important role in managing the disease.  I think it would be helpful to clear up a few myths and misunderstandings related to breast cancer.
MYTH: A lump in the breast is a sure sign of cancer
Not all lumps found in the breasts turn out to be cancer. In fact, more than 80% of lumps found turn out to be benign (noncancerous) tumors or cysts. However, if the lump does not go away, it should not be ignored and further evaluation is recommended.  In most cases benign masses and cysts can be distinguished from cancers using radiologic imaging such as mammograms and breast ultrasound.   

MYTH: Only women can get breast cancer
Although it is rare – less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases – breast cancer can occur in men. When it does occur, it carries a higher mortality rate than it does in women because men are less likely to recognize the possibility that a lump is cancerous. 

MYTH: Only women with a family history of breast cancer are at significant risk of developing the disease. 
It is true that having a family history of breast cancer increases a woman’s risk.   However, it is critical to understand that the majority of breast cancers occur in women who are not considered to be high risk. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, only 10% of the women with breast cancer have a family history of this disease. For this reason, all women – regardless of their family history – should undergo regular checks for breast cancer.

MYTH: Breast cancer always appears as a lump
Cancers that are found during routine yearly screening mammography are usually asymptomatic – meaning that there is no associated lump or pain. This is because the cancers that are found on routine screening are much smaller on average than cancers that are discovered in women who do not participate in regular screening and only see their physician once they have developed a breast lump.  Other possible warning signs of breast cancer include: a change in the size or shape of the breast; a nipple or skin that is pulled in; scaly, red or swollen skin in any area of the breast; and bloody nipple discharge.

MYTH: Young women cannot get breast cancer
While it is much less common for young women to get breast cancer, the disease is not restricted to older women. Approximately 25% of the women who get breast cancer are under the age of 50. This is why women as young as 20 are encouraged to begin regular self-examinations and have a yearly clinical examination by their primary care provider.   Women who have close family members with breast cancer such as a mother or sister may need to begin regular screening earlier than usual.  

One of the best ways to fight breast cancer is to stay informed, and know what to look for – early detection is the key! If you would like more information about breast cancer, or would like to discuss your personal risk of developing this disease, please contact the Lexington Clinic Center for Breast Care today, at (859) 258-4444.

Chad Harston, MD, is a fellowship-trained mammographer with Lexington Clinic’s Center for Breast Care. He is board-certified in radiology and his professional interests include radiology, breast imaging, breast cancer, diseases of the breast and women’s imaging.