October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a great time to refresh your knowledge of the disease. As more research is done and advancements are made, it can be difficult to determine the latest and most trusted information on breast cancer. Take the time to learn some common myths and facts about the disease, and share with your mother, daughters, friends and other women in your life.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women: Fact. An estimated 252,710 women (and 2,470 men) are expected to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2017. In the state of Iowa alone, an estimated 2,400 women will be diagnosed and 380 will die of the disease. The positive news is, if breast cancer is diagnosed and treated early, the five-year survival rate is nearly 99 percent.
If your mother did not have breast cancer, you are not at risk: Myth. Although a family history of the disease does increase your risk, anyone can develop breast cancer. In fact, most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. Regardless, it is important to know your family history and talk to a health care professional about your risk to determine when and how often you should get screened. For instance, my maternal grandmother, my own mother, her four sisters and two brothers all died of cancer.
Obesity can increase your likelihood of developing breast cancer: Fact. Studies show that obesity increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, possibly due to high estrogen levels found in fat tissue. Exercising regularly and eating a nutritious diet can help you maintain a healthy weight.
African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer: Fact. Although incidence rates for white women between ages 60 and 84 are much higher than their African-American counterparts, black women are more likely to die of the disease—and the gap is widening. This may be due to a number of factors, including access and response to screening and treatments, differences in stages when diagnosed and obesity rates.
Taking birth control pills may increase your risk of breast cancer: Fact. According to several studies, if you currently use birth control pills, you mayslightly increase your risk of breast cancer, especially if you are a young woman.However, your risk level returns to normal about 10 years after you stop taking the pill. Most of the research on this topic applies to high-dose estrogen pills, which were more common in the past; more studies need to be done to determine if newer, low-dose estrogen formulas carry a similar risk. Talk to your health care professional about how birth control pills may impact your cancer risk; some studies suggest they may reduce risk for other cancers.
Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer: Myth. No clear scientific evidence has been found to support this claim.
Men do not get breast cancer: Myth. Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women. For men the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about one in 1,000. The number of breast cancer cases in men relative to the population has been fairly stable over the last 30 years. The American Cancer Society estimate for breast cancer in men in the United States is about 2,470 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed. It is estimated about 460 men will die.
The more you know about breast cancer, the more you can do to reduce your risk of the disease. To learn more about risk factors, symptoms, and screening for breast cancer, visit www.preventcancer.org/breastcancer. Statistics are provided by the American Cancer Society.
Barbara Grassley is a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program and the spouse of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. In April, she celebrated 30 years as a breast cancer survivor.