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Three breast cancer myths debunked

October 17, 2017


This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Allyson Jacobson, M.D., Medical Director of the NCH Breast Program and a fellowship-trained Breast Surgeon, sets the facts straight on three misconceptions about breast cancer.

  1. You are likely to develop breast cancer if you have a family history of breast cancer.
    According to the National Cancer Institute, only about 10 to 15 percent of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of the disease. That means 85 percent of people diagnosed with breast cancer have NO family history of the disease. Rather, the majority of breast cancer diagnoses are due to lifestyle and environmental factors.

    However, it is true you may have a greater risk of getting breast cancer if you have a first-degree relative—a mother, sister or daughter—particularly if she developed breast cancer before age 50. Other risk factors that are red flags include:
    • If you have multiple generations of women on the same side of your family who have been diagnosed with breast cancer
    • If you have several, first-degree relatives diagnosed with the disease before they turn 50

      “Whether or not you have a family history of breast cancer, starting at least by age 40, every woman should be checked annually and have a mammogram,” says Dr. Jacobson.

  2. Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer.
    While a lump or mass in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer, approximately 80 percent of breast lumps detected are benign (noncancerous). Nevertheless, Dr. Jacobson says you should not ignore a lump or any of these symptoms:
    • Thickening in or near the breast or underarm
    • Pain in the breast that doesn’t go away
    • Change in how the breast or nipple looks or feels
    • Change in the breast’s shape or size
    • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
    • Breast feels warm to touch
    • Discharge from the nipple that is bloody or comes out without squeezing the breast
    • Swollen, red or scaly skin on the breast, nipple or areola

      “Women need to be aware of such changes in their breasts,” she says. “Should you experience any of the above symptoms, follow up by seeing your primary care physician/healthcare provider or gynecologist.”

  3. Mammograms emit high levels of radiation, causing breast cancer.
    While mammography comes with some radiation exposure, overall the amount is minimal. The benefits of mammograms outweigh the risks of harm from the radiation. Plus, there is no data suggesting that over their lifetime, the radiation in most women from mammograms increases their risk of developing breast cancer. “It’s so important for women to understand the benefits of a yearly mammogram,” emphasizes Dr. Jacobson. “Mammograms can show changes in the breast up to two years before a woman or her doctor can feel them. And, when it comes to treating cancer, earlier is better. Smaller is better.”

Comprehensive breast cancer treatment at NCH

The multidisciplinary breast cancer team at Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) provides individualized treatment for breast cancer. Dr. Jacobson leads a team that includes medical oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, radiation oncologists, nurse navigators, social workers, pathologists, genetics counselors and plastic surgeons. Her patients often express comfort in being treated by a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer surgery.

Dr. Jacobson performs:

  • Lumpectomy (breast-conserving) procedures
  • Mastectomy procedures (including skin-sparing and nipple-sparing procedures for cancer and risk reduction in high-risk women)
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy (axillary node dissection, when needed)
  • Surgery for benign disease

Dr. Jacobson also works with plastic surgeons that perform breast reconstructive surgery.

Robert Rao, M.D. and Robert Aki, M.D. also perform breast cancer surgery at NCH.

For information on breast cancer treatment at NCH, call 847-618-6660. 

To schedule a mammogram, call 847-618-3700.