Learn the truth behind some common myths.
Having an abnormal mammogram can be stressful. But 9 out of 10 women who go for extra tests do not have breast cancer. There are many reasons why a mammogram result may be abnormal. Common reasons include:
Fluid-filled sacs (cysts). Up to 60% of women will have these at some point in their lives.
Small solid nodules that are not cancer (fibroadenomas).
Small calcium deposits (benign calcifications).
These are not dangerous and are not cancer.
In fact, 1 in 8 Alberta women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
The truth is, 80% of women who develop breast cancer have no family history. So it’s important to understand that you are still at risk for breast cancer even if no one in your family has ever had the disease.
Women with breasts of all shapes and sizes are at risk of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate according to size.
Screening mammograms detect many small tumours approximately 2-3 years before they can be felt. That’s why screening is so important — it can find cancer before it has a chance to become more serious.
Men can develop breast cancer. However, less than one percent of all breast cancer cases in Canada occur in men. Men, like women, are encouraged to be breast aware and discuss any unusual changes in their breasts with their healthcare provider. According to the Alberta Cancer Registry, in 2008 there were a total of 9 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in men in Alberta (compared to 1,970 cases in Alberta women).
Mammograms require very small doses of radiation. Research confirms that the risk of harm from radiation exposure by mammography is very low. The benefits of the earlier diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer far outweigh the risk of the small dose of radiation received during a mammogram.
Mammograms are recommended for women who have breast implants. If you have breast implants, you should tell the clinic before your mammogram.
There are several things that can be done to reduce the risk of breast cancer:
Physical Activity – Be physically active throughout your life and exercise every day.
Weight – Try to reach or stay at a healthy body weight. This becomes even more important after menopause.
Alcohol – Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink per day.
Smoking – Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. If you’re currently a smoker, talk to your healthcare provider about options for quitting or cutting back. You can also get support at AlbertaQuits.ca or call 1-866-710-QUIT.
Long-term Hormone Replacement Therapies (HRT) – Limit using the combination of estrogen and progestin menopausal hormone replacement therapy to no more than 5 years; long-term use (beyond 5 years) increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer. But within 2 years of stopping, a woman’s risk of breast cancer returns to average.
What is most important is that women know how their breasts normally look and feel – from the whole area of breast tissue up to the collarbone and including the armpit. While it is not necessary to have a regimented method for checking your breasts, call your healthcare provider right away if you notice any unusual changes. See the Breast Screening Life Plan.
Mammograms can miss up to 10% of breast cancer. This is why it’s so important to go for screening mammograms regularly and let your healthcare provider know if you notice any unusual changes in your breasts.
Several studies have been done about the link between antiperspirants and deodorants and breast cancer. So far there is no reliable evidence that they increase the risk of breast cancer.
You may be asked not to wear deodorant containing aluminum when you go for a screening mammogram. This is because the aluminum can show up on the mammogram images and may make breast cancers and other abnormalities harder to find.
There is currently no definite link between cell phone use and increased risk of breast cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded in 2011 that radio frequency fields, such as those from cell phones, may cause cancer but more research is needed before this is confirmed.
If you’re concerned about cell phone use and the possible link to cancer:
Reduce the amount of time you use a cell phone or consider texting instead of talking.
Use a headset instead of holding the phone next to your ear.
Don’t carry your cell phone next to your skin (i.e. in your bra).
There is no evidence that breast thermography is an effective screening tool for finding breast cancer early. Breast thermography finds differences in skin temperature on the breast with the use of a special heat-sensing (infrared) camera. It is based on the theory that surface temperature is higher where there is more blood flow – and since tumours or localized infections have greater blood flow, the hope is that the infrared camera will detect any abnormalities like these.
Breast thermography is not approved by the United States FDA for use in breast cancer screening. In Canada, thermography equipment is not licensed for sale for breast cancer screening because of the lack of evidence about its effectiveness. This is not an insured service in Alberta.
Right now, screening mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early when treatment can work better. Learn how to take care of your breast health by following the Breast Screening Life Plan.
No research shows that wearing an underwire bra increases your risk of breast cancer.