What you know vs. what you think you know

By Rebecca Jung

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but as awareness grows, there are still myths about breast cancer.

“Some common myths are: finding a lump always means breast cancer, men do not get breast cancer, breast cancer is contagious or that deodorants, cell phones or microwave ovens can cause breast cancer,” said Dr Sharon Stern, physician and director of Baylor Health Services.

This past summer a news story went viral about a girl getting breast cancer from putting her cell phone in her bra, a practice many college women have done. Since this time, many research organizations have come forward to dispel this as a reason for the breast cancer.

“There is no scientific evidence that cell phones cause any type of breast cancer,” Stern said.

“There have been studies looking at this and microwaves and neither has shown any increased incidence. Breast cancer — like all cancers — begins with abnormal cells which are not corrected and continue to grow and become more abnormal over time.”

Breast cancer does not just affect women.

“Men can get breast cancer, although the ratio between women and men with breast cancer is 100:1,” Stern said. “There are approximately 2,600 men diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Men can also do self-checks and just be aware that it is possible.”

Another myth is that women in college cannot get breast cancer. Often young people are thought of as invincible, Stern said. Stern knew a woman who was diagnosed sophomore year of college with breast cancer. It was a sorority sister of her daughter, and it was a very aggressive form of cancer. She fought it for years before it killed her.

“So it does happen and it’s horrible when it happens,” Stern said. “It can be devastating.”

If cell phones don’t cause cancer and microwaves don’t cause cancer, some may wonder what does cause cancer in individuals and if there is something they can avoid that will protect them from breast cancer.

“We do not know the cause of breast cancer,” Stern said, “but we can look at risk factors: gender, age, race, family history, menstrual and reproductive history, certain gene mutations, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, alcohol consumption, combined hormone replacement after menopause and radiation to the chest.”

There are risk factors that cannot be changed and risk factors that can be changed, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc. The factors that cannot be changed are age, race, family history, early menstruation, late menopause. Factors that can be changed include sedentary lifestyle, alcohol consumption and hormone replacement therapy.

Though there are risk factors, 60 to 70 percent women who are diagnosed have no risk factors present, Stern said. Though there are risk factors for breast cancer, women­ — especially at a younger age — can help prevent breast cancer by doing self-checks.

“The key is to know your body,” Stern said.

Self checks should start at 18 and be a lifelong habit. Mammograms should begin at age 40 every other year until 50, and then become annual.

“A mammogram is an X-ray of the breasts and typically isn’t done under age 40 as breast tissue is dense in most younger women,” Stern said. “Mammograms look for unusual patterns or calcification.”

Statistics from a Foundation dedicated to education and research, Susan G Komen, indicate that women in their 20s have a one in 1000 chance of getting breast cancer. Women need to be concerned at all stages of life with breast health, a representative at Susan G. Komen’s breast health hotline said. Self-checks should be an important habit for women.

Well-woman exams, are offered through the Baylor Health Center, and should be covered by most insurance. They are considered preventive treatment, Stern said.

Women interested in this service, should call the Health Center or visit their webpage to make an appointment.