With so much information out there about breast cancer, sometimes it's difficult to separate myth from reality. But, without a realistic picture of the disease, you may not recognize whether you're at risk and take steps to protect yourself. That's why knowing the truth is so important.
Here are three common beliefs about the disease followed by what you really need to know:
Myth: A family history of breast cancer is the number one risk factor for the disease.
Reality: If a close relative had breast cancer, then you have a higher risk of developing it, too, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But about 90 percent of women with breast cancer have no known family history of the disease. Just being a woman puts you at risk, but growing older has the biggest effect on how likely you are to develop the disease. A majority of cases of women with breast cancer are older than age 50 when they're diagnosed.
Myth: Breast cancer is the number one cause of death in women.
Reality: Although breast cancer may be near the top of the list, it isn't in the lead. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that around 27% of women die from heart disease than from any type of cancer, including that of the breast. But, breast cancer is still a serious health threat. It's ranked second, behind lung cancer, and claims the lives of about 40,000 women a year.
Myth: Doing a breast self-exam every month is the best way to detect a lump.
Reality: You may be more likely to notice a new lump or other changes if you're familiar with how your breasts normally feel. But, a mammogram is the best way to detect breast cancer, the NCI says. A mammogram can detect a tumor well before you'd be able to feel it with your fingers. The earlier that breast cancer is detected, the more effective treatment is likely to be.