Myth #1 Wireless equipment like handphones, microwaves and even mammogram machines can cause breast cancer.
“Low-energy radiation, including cell phone signals, microwaves and Wi-Fi, does not have enough energy to effect DNA damage,” says Dr Chuwa. “Of note, mammograms expose the breasts to tiny amounts of radiation. Modern machines use low radiation doses to get breast x-rays with high image quality. The benefits of mammography in detecting early stage breast cancers far outweigh any possible harm from the radiation exposure.”
Myth #2 Wearing underwire bras causes breast cancer.
“It is believed that underwire bras restrict the drainage of toxins from the breast, resulting in accumulation of cancer-causing substances in the breast. However, a scientific study found no real difference in risk between women who wore a bra and those who didn’t,” Dr Chuwa explains. With that said, she notes that being overweight increases breast cancer risk and is associated with women having larger breasts and needing to wear a bra more often, so the risk lies in the woman’s weight instead of the underwire bras.
Myth #3 If I have breast cancer, I need to have a mastectomy.
“Surgery has progressed considerably over the last few decades,” Dr Chuwa says. With better drugs, women now survive longer, which leads to a greater emphasis on preserving a good and functional quality of life. “There’s also a trend towards reconstructive and oncoplastic surgical approaches that better preserve the shape and form of the breast despite cancer removal,” Dr Chuwa remarks.
Myth #4 A lump in my breast is a symptom or early stage of breast cancer.
A lump in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer. “However, 90 per cent of breast lumps felt by women are benign,” Dr Chuwa says. “It is important to be vigilant, but do not panic. Observe if the lump resolves following menstruation; if it persists, consult your doctor who will order tests like an ultrasound scan to determine the nature of the lump.”
Myth #5 Women with breast implants cannot undergo breast screenings.
Women with breast implants can and should go for regular mammograms. However, they should note that it is best for them to mention their conditions with the doctor beforehand to ensure a safe and inclusive breast screening process.
Myth #6 Mammogram screening is 100% accurate, and women who receive a negative result will not have to take a mammogram again for the rest of their lives
The accuracy of a mammogram screening depends on several factors. According to the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium, the overall sensitivity of mammography is about 87 per cent. This means mammography correctly identifies about 87 percent of women who truly have breast cancer, with higher sensitivity in women over 50 and women with fatty breasts.
Despite that, mammograms remain the most effective way of early detection of breast cancer, as it is able to detect small tumours two to three years before any lumps can be felt. A study has also shown a 28 per cent decrease in death from breast cancer in women over 40 who had regular mammograms.
Myth #7 Breast cancer only affects older women so there’s no reason for me to undergo screening while I am young.
While the incidence rate of breast cancer increases sharply for women from age 30 – 39 onwards, there are still cases in Singapore where breast cancer is diagnosed in patients as young as 19 years old. However, mammograms are not generally recommended for women under 40 years old as the density of breast tissue in younger women will render mammograms ineffective in detecting breast cancer.
Hence, The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that all women 20 years of age or older to perform monthly breast self-examinations (BSE) to improve the chances of early detection in breast cancer.
Myth #8 You must wait five years to see if you’re truly cancer free.
Even after surgery to remove the tumour, recurrence of breast cancer can still occur – it is said that recurrence rates within the first five years after diagnosis is the highest. Often times, patients will still need to undergo chemotherapy even after surgery to ensure that the cancer is completely eliminated.
A promising new breakthrough in predictive medicine, MammaPrint, claims to be able to predict if a patient is likely to experience a recurrence of breast cancer. This prognostic and predictive diagnostic test is recommended for patients in the early stage of breast cancer who have undergone surgery, to give them greater peace of mind without the five-year wait. All it takes it a simple blood test and analysis of the patient’s genomics. This saves survivors from having to go through unnecessary chemotherapy after surgery. This FDA-approved technology is available at Parkway Pantai Hospital.
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