Breast Cancer Myths
- Myths and misinformation can be confusing to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer
- Treatment doesn’t always require chemotherapy, or removing the entire breast
- No single dietary change, including cutting out sugar, can definitively prevent or stop breast cancer
- Side effects like fatigue and pain can continue after treatment is over
When you’re faced with a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s important to have your facts straight so you can make the right decisions. Here are five common myths people with breast cancer often hear, and the truth behind each one.
1. You’re Too Young to Get Breast Cancer!Read More
According to a recent study from the University of Iowa, a growing number of young women are learning they have breast cancer. “The incidence of stage one, two, and three breast cancer is increasing among women aged 20-49 years, driven by increases in hormone receptor-positive breast cancer,” Dr. Payal Shah, an assistant professor of hematology-oncology at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Basser Center for BRCA at the Abramson Cancer Center told SurvivorNet.
Britney Beadle was just 18 years old when she discovered a lump in her breast. “My doctor said 18-year-olds don’t get breast cancer,” she recalls. Three months later, the lump had grown. Beadle returned for a biopsy and learned her doctor had been wrong.
Breast cancer survivor Brittney Beadle tells SurvivorNet about getting diagnosed at a young age
New mom and former As The World Turns star, Marnie Schulenburg, was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer at age 36, shortly after the birth of her baby. Because of her age and situation, Schulenburg’s doctors mistook her symptoms for mastitis, a common infection in nursing mothers.
“Over the last 3.5 months I have seen two lactation consultants, one breast specialist and my OBGYN all to figure out what was causing my left breast to hurt when I fed with it, turn red, hot, swollen, dimple and harden but wasn’t responding to antibiotics or any treatment,” she wrote on her Instagram page. She said she was facing her breast cancer diagnosis with a combination of “utter devastation and fierce determination.”
2. Breast Cancer Treatment Always Includes Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy uses strong medicine to treat breast cancer. Though it’s effective at eradicating cancer cells, this treatment can also damage healthy cells, leading to unpleasant side effects like hair loss, nausea, vomiting, and infections.
Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Medical Oncologist, Dr. Elizabeth Comen, tells SurvivorNet why a large number of women with breast cancer can now avoid chemotherapy
While most women used to get chemotherapy as a routine part of their treatment, a study called TAILORx found that many thousands of women can now safely avoid this therapy. The study used a genetic test called Oncotype DX to predict which women would benefit from chemotherapy. Those who aren’t likely to benefit can skip this treatment, along with the side effects it causes.
3. Cutting Out Sugar Will Cure Your Breast Cancer
You might have heard that sugar “feeds” cancer cells. By this logic, cutting all of the sugar out of your diet should stop breast cancer in its tracks. But the reality isn’t so clear cut.
It’s true that sugar, or glucose, feeds our cells—healthy ones, as well as cancer. But cutting it out of your diet entirely will also starve the important cells your body needs to function. And though researchers have found links between a sugary diet and an increased risk of cancer, there isn’t proof that sugar causes cancer, or that eliminating it treats cancer.
Instead of cutting sugar across the board, improve your health overall by limiting added sugars from foods like sodas, cake, cookies, and candy—which aren’t healthy in general. Eat whole grains rather than white flour. And if you do crave something sweet, get your sugar rush from fruit instead of dessert.
4. If You’re Diagnosed With Breast Cancer, Your Breast(s) Will Have to Go
Most women with breast cancer do have surgery, but that doesn’t always involve a removing both breasts (double mastectomy) or even one breast (mastectomy). Those with early-stage cancer can opt for a lumpectomy, otherwise known as breast-sparing surgery.
During a lumpectomy, the surgeon removes only the cancerous area, along with a small margin of healthy tissue around it. Afterward, you may have radiation to prevent the cancer from coming back.
Should you have a lumpectomy or mastectomy? Breast surgeon Dr. Sarah Cate talks you through this important decision.
Like every other aspect of your treatment, the decision about which type of surgery to have takes a lot of thought and careful consideration. Your doctor will help you make that decision based on the stage of your cancer, your family history, health, preferences, and other factors.
5. Once You Finish Treatment, the Hard Part is Over
Being declared cancer-free can come with a huge sense (and sigh) of relief, but it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Many of the treatments that helped rid your body of cancer — including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation — can have lasting side effects.
Pain, tiredness, headaches, weakened bones, memory loss, and a lost sex drive are just a few of the problems that can plague you down the road. Lymphedema is a side effect of breast cancer surgery that can affect women who’ve had lymph nodes removed during a mastectomy. It happens when fluid from the lymph vessels builds up inside tissues and causes swelling, usually of the arm that’s on the same side as the treated breast.
Dr. Dung Nguyen, director of breast reconstruction at Stanford Medicine, explains lymphedema
Oscar-winning actress and breast cancer survivor, Kathy Bates, told SurvivorNet that lymphedema was one of the hardest parts of her cancer treatment. “I was bitter, I was depressed,” she says. “I thought my career was over, I thought, ‘There’s no way, I’m done, everything is done.’”
Bates underwent a series of treatments to relieve the problem. She also became active in efforts to make women more aware about the risks of lymphedema, which she’s done through her advocacy work with the Lymphatic Education & Research Network (LE&RN).