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Breast cancer: Truths and myths

We’ve all heard talk on the subject of breast cancer. The topic comes up so frequently that it is often hard to determine which statements people make are true and which ones are false. Here, we shed some light on the truths and myths of breast cancer.

Breast cancer self examMyth: Only women get breast cancer

In truth, 1 per cent of breast cancer occurs in men. And when it does, it is often a more serious case. It is also important to note that the offspring of a man who suffers from breast cancer are at an even greater risk than the offspring of a mother who does. In such a case, regular checkups become increasingly more important.

Truth: You can self-exam

Performing a self-exam on your breasts once a month is important for many reasons. It helps you gain a better understanding of your body and empowers you to seek help if you feel it is necessary. Although your doctor will perform a quick exam at your yearly physical, you are the first line of detection for the months in between. During your self-exam, feel for anything that seems excessively lumpy or knobby and may seem to be growing in size with time. The feel of your breasts changes with your menstrual cycle, so make sure you perform your self-exam at different times of the month.

Myth: If you have breast cancer, you will be able to feel it

The truth is, not all breast cancers are palpable. This means that some forms cannot be detected by a physical exam. There are some signs, though, that you can look out for. If you notice eczema or drying skin on your nipples and are not typically prone to such skin changes, it may be worth checking out. Also, if you notice skin-dimpling, an orange-peel-like texture, redness, or a warm temperature on your breasts, a checkup may be in order.

Truth: Mammograms are important

Although doctors include a breast exam in your yearly physical as of puberty, they typically recommend mammographies to women in Canada as of the age of 50. If, however, a woman has a family history of breast cancer, she may begin regular tests at a younger age. Breast tissue in women under the age of 35 isn’t dense enough for mammographies, so MRIs or X-rays may be necessary.

Myth: Breast cancer means a mastectomy

Having one or both breasts removed is a terrible situation for anyone to be in. But it’s important to know that finding breast cancer doesn’t always mean a mastectomy will be required. If a tumour is found at stage 1, many doctors may prefer to do a lumpectomy (i.e., remove the mass) and follow up with chemotherapy.

Truth: There are means of prevention

Although there are undoubtedly certain traits, such as a family history, that increase a person’s chances of breast cancer, certain things can reduce one’s risks. Pursuing a healthy diet and exercise and avoiding smoking are good places to start. Studies also show that having a child before 30 and breastfeeding can lower a woman’s risk. The term “breast cancer” is a scary one to many women, but if you do some research, you can quickly become your number one advocate for awareness and prevention of the disease.

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