UNC Health Talk

Breast Cancer Misconceptions

Barbara Z. Dull, M.D., is a breast surgeon at Rex Breast Care Specialists. Dr. Dull earned her medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Piscataway, N.J. She completed her general surgery residency and served as a post-doctorate research fellow at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis. Most recently, she completed a Breast Surgery Fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

As October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to dispel some common misconceptions about breast cancer.

  1. Brest Cancer Awareness ribbon tree.
    Breast Cancer awareness tree.

    You’re only at risk of getting breast cancer if you have a family history of it. I see many patients in my office diagnosed with breast cancer who are shocked at the diagnosis because they have no family history of the disease.  In fact, only 10-15 percent of breast cancers are due to a genetic mutation running in a family, the other 85 percent occur sporadically.  For women with no family history of breast cancer we recommend starting screening mammography at the age of 40.

  2. I found a lump in my breast so I must have breast cancer. Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be breast cancer.  Even though most breast lumps will turn out to be normal breast tissue or benign (non-cancerous) masses, they should never be ignored.  Any patient feeling a breast lump should notify their doctor so that the appropriate work-up can be performed.
  3. Breast pain is a sign of breast cancer. Breast pain is a common symptom for many women, but rarely is a sign of breast cancer.  More than 60 percent of women will have breast pain in their lifetime and this is usually related to hormonal changes or benign masses.  Of all women evaluated for breast pain, less than 1 percent are found to have breast cancer.
  4. I heard that ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is not really breast cancer. DCIS is non-invasive form of breast cancer that started in the milk ducts and has not spread to surrounding tissue so it is considered stage 0 breast cancer.  DCIS can develop into an invasive breast cancer and so it is treated similarly.  We currently can’t predict which patients with DCIS will develop invasive breast cancers and which will not, but research is ongoing to help answer that question.  The goal would be to identify patients at high risk of developing invasive breast cancer and target treatment appropriately.
  5. If I have a mastectomy I won’t need chemotherapy. If a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer many times they have two surgical options to treat the breast cancer in the breast, a mastectomy or a lumpectomy (partial mastectomy).  Chemotherapy is a systemic (whole body) treatment, treating any breast cancer cells that cannot be treated via surgery or radiation.   The decision on whether or not a patient needs chemotherapy depends on the size of the breast cancer, whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body, and which tumor markers it has and is not impacted by which type of surgery is done on the breast.

Early detection provides the best defense against breast cancer. For this reason, mammograms are only one part of the American Cancer Society’s guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer. In addition to yearly mammograms, women 40 and older should also get a breast exam by a healthcare professional every year (women in their 20s and 30s should have a breast exam at least every 3 years).

Along with these recommended exams, women need to be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel and should report any changes to their doctor right away.

If you are interested in having your mammogram at the Rex Breast Care Center, please call 919-784-3419 for more information or schedule your mammogram online today.