Common Breast Cancer Myths: The Truth About Breast Cancer


Dr. Michelina Cairo

While early detection and advances in treatment have created millions of breast cancer survivors, it remains the second-deadliest cancer affecting American women. As oncologists, we often hear misconceptions about the disease from patients. It’s important to have the facts and dispel common myths surrounding breast cancer.

Myth No. 1: You’ll only get breast cancer if you have a family history.

A higher risk of developing breast cancer can be inherited through gene mutations. “Only five to 10 percent of cancers are from inherited gene mutations, and many women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease,” said Dr. Michelina Cairo, medical oncologist, Texas Oncology–Houston Memorial City.

If you have a strong family history of cancer, genetic testing can identify your risk for certain cancer types, including breast and ovarian. Reducing risk and detecting cancer early are the most important things people can do to protect their health.

Myth No. 2: If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you must have your breasts removed.


Dr. Frankie Ann Holmes

A breast cancer diagnosis does not automatically result in a mastectomy. The type and stage of the cancer will impact the need for a mastectomy or lumpectomy. Treatment options, often used in combination, can include radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, bone-directed therapy or hormone therapy.

A clinical trial may offer the best approach to fighting cancer. Texas Oncology, through its affiliation with US Oncology Research, has contributed to the approval of more than 50 FDA-approved cancer-fighting drugs, nearly one-third of all cancer therapies approved by the FDA to date.

“Patients interested in participating in a trial should consult with their oncologist to determine eligibility, benefits and risks,” said Dr. Frankie Ann Holmes, medical oncologist, Texas Oncology–Houston Memorial City.

Myth No. 3: Lumps in your breasts mean you have breast cancer.

Many conditions may cause breast lumps, including benign conditions. It’s important to pay attention to other less-known symptoms of breast cancer, including change in breast size or shape; thickening of breast or underarm; nipple retraction or discharge; dimpled skin near the breast; tenderness or pain in breast or nipple; a lump under your arm or around the collarbone or irritation, redness, scaliness or swelling on the breast, nipple or skin near the nipple.

While these are symptoms of breast cancer, changes in your breasts can also indicate non-cancerous conditions. “Consult your physician immediately if you experience any of the symptoms above,” said Dr. Holmes.

Myth No. 4: Breast cancer only affects women.

Breast cancer is more common in women; however, men can also be diagnosed. About one in 1,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in his lifetime. Breast cancer can have a huge impact on the lives of those diagnosed and their families. While it cannot be completely prevented, there are steps women can take to decrease their risk.

“Regular exercise, limiting alcohol intake and maintaining a healthy body weight may reduce your breast cancer risk,” said Dr. Cairo. “With regular screenings and advanced technology and treatments, more people than ever are surviving this disease.”