Liz Sinclair, Contributing writer
Breast cancer is one of the leading killers of women today.
Despite the widespread impact of this disease, many myths persist about breast cancer, why women get it, how they can avoid it and what groups of women are affected or at risk.
Myth: Only older women get breast cancer
Fact: Although the risk of breast cancer does increase as women age, women of all ages can and do get breast cancer. According to BreastCancer.org, a non-profit that provides up-to-date research and information about breast cancer online, "the risk of getting breast cancer over the course of an entire lifetime is one in seven, with an overall lifetime risk of 14.3 percent."
Myth: Having a risk factor for breast cancer means that you will get the disease
Fact: Women who have risk factors, such as a gene abnormality associated with breast cancer, will not always develop the disease. According to BreastCancer.org, "of women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited genetic abnormality, 40 to 80 percent will develop breast cancer over their lifetime; 20 to 60 percent won't."
Women who change their lifestyle by quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, reducing stress or adding physically and mentally restoring practices such as walking, yoga, meditation or t'ai chi, can significantly reduce their risk of getting breast cancer.
Myth: If a woman doesn't have a history of breast cancer in her family, she won't get it
Fact: About 80 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no history of the disease in their family. The greatest risk factors women face for getting breast cancer are being female, getting older and being overweight.
Myth: Eating foods high in fat causes breast cancer
Fact: Studies have not shown any clear links between eating foods that are high in fat and an increased risk of breast cancer. However, women who are overweight do have a higher risk of developing breast cancer as excess body fat increases estrogen levels in the body, and higher estrogen levels are a risk factor.
Myth: Women who do a monthly breast self-exam don't need regular mammograms
Fact: While it is important for women to do monthly breast self-exams, and get regular breast exams from their health providers, a mammogram is still the most reliable way to detect breast cancer in the early stages. According to BreastCancer.org, "by the time a breast cancer can be felt, it is usually bigger than the average size of a cancer first found in a mammogram."
Women over 45 should have annual mammograms to detect breast cancer early.
Myth: A diagnosis of breast cancer is an automatic death sentence
Fact: According to BreastCancer.org, "80 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no cancer beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes."
Most of these women live at least five years, most longer, and many live much longer, the site says. Even women with signs of cancer metastases -- cancer that has spread to other parts of the body -- can live a long time. Plus, promising treatment breakthroughs are becoming available each day.
Myth: Birth control pills can cause breast cancer
Fact: Only one study has shown a link between birth control pills and an increased risk of breast cancer. The study showed that this risk was very small and decreased over time. Moreover, use of birth control pills has been shown to actually reduce the risks of other types of cancer, such as ovarian and endometrial cancer, as well as helping lessen the effects of some conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease and ovarian cysts.
Myth: Drinking red wine can help prevent breast cancer
Fact: Some people believe that reservatol and ellagic acid, two ingredients in red wine, may have anti-cancer properties, but this is not proven by studies. According to Ronda Gates, a health educator, "the research on red wine has been done in relation to heart disease and cholesterol. The original studies came from France, where there is a less stress-filled life, and newer studies support that people who have a less stress-filled life and drink wine have less heart disease. It may be the stress issue versus the wine issue."