5 Breast Cancer Myths Busted
More women are aware of their breast health and breast cancer, however some damaging myths exist that misinform women on the benefits of early detection and seeking prompt care. Here are just a few:
Myth1: Breast cancer is a death sentence and there are no cancer survivors
Truth: Being diagnosed with breast cancer is NOT a death sentence. With the scientific and social progress in breast cancer care, more women are surviving breast cancer in Nigeria and worldwide. A lot of Nigerian women after treatment are able to resume work and normal activities, get pregnant, have children and live a happy life. The mortality rate is high because of the late stage at presentation, survivorship barriers (affordability, accessibility and availability of cancer care) and the aggressive biology of breast cancer. If more patients present with early stage disease, receive prompt and effective treatment there would be more cancer survivors and less deaths.
Myth 2: No one in my family has ever had breast cancer, therefore I don’t have a risk of developing breast cancer.
Truth: Every woman has some risk of developing breast cancer. 70%-80% of women who have breast cancer do not have a known family history or an identifiable risk factor. Even if no one in your family has ever been diagnosed, that’s no excuse to skip your yearly mammogram. It’s important all women over 40 years old be screened for breast cancer. A few women have a family history where at least 2 relatives have been diagnosed with breast cancer: such women have an increased risk of breast cancer and they should visit their doctors to discuss risk reduction and intervention.
Myth 3: Breast cancer surgery could cause death and makes the cancer to spread
Truth: This myth may have started many decades ago when patients with cancer already had advanced stages of the disease by the time they sought medical care. Doctors who operated to diagnose the illness may have found an advanced cancer that could not be treated successfully, so when patients died, observers claimed the surgery caused the spread of cancer cells, ultimately killing them.
Breast surgeons/surgical oncologists are doctors highly trained in the intricacies of cancer surgery and anatomy and know how to safely take biopsy samples and remove tumours without causing the cancer to spread, therefore, surgery should not be delayed or refused as it is an effective treatment.
Myth 4: The Government hospitals are not equipped to treat cancer; most patients die there.
Truth: While Government hospitals have their challenges, they are amongst the best places for patients to receive care because of the specialists and facilities available there. It is common for patients who have received care in various places with no success to present to the Government hospitals as a last resort and in these situations; the option of treating with intent to cure is low.
Myth 5: A mammogram is not beneficial as it can cause breast cancer and it is painful
Truth: A mammogram is an X ray picture of the breast. It can pick up a lump 2 years prior to a doctor feeling it. An annual screening mammogram is recommended for women above 40 years. It is not a painful procedure, but may be slightly uncomfortable because the breast has to be compressed between two plates.
Early detection of breast cancer with screening mammography means that treatment can be started earlier in the course of the disease, possibly before it has spread. Mammograms require very small doses of radiation. The risk of harm from this radiation exposure is extremely low, but repeated x-rays have the potential to cause cancer. The benefits of mammography, however, nearly always outweigh the potential harm from the radiation exposure. Let your doctor know if you’re pregnant, as radiation may harm a growing baby.
Dr. (Mrs) Omolola Salako MBBS FWACS
Consultant, Radiation and Clinical Oncologist,
Executive Director, Sebeccly Cancer Care