What You May Not Know About Breast Cancer

You check for lumps on your own, dutifully visit your gynecologist every year, and never forget your annual mammogram. You even know that the little pink ribbon your neighbor wears pinned to her shirt is a breast-cancer awareness symbol. But do you know as much about the disease as you could? Probably not. Below are some important things to be aware of regarding breast cancer, courtesy of the organization National Breast Cancer Awareness Month:

All tumors are not cancer. Eighty percent of the tumors found in breasts are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. They usually don't come back after being removed, and they don't invade other tissues in the body, unlike malignant tumors, which are cancerous.

Locally advanced breast cancer is not the same as metastatic breast cancer. Locally advanced breast cancer means that the cancer either is large (more than two inches in diameter) or may have spread to nearby tissue such as lymph nodes in the armpit. Metastatic breast cancer means the cancer has spread to far regions of the body such as the bones, lungs or brain.

Oral contraceptives are not a significant risk factor for breast cancer. You may have heard in the past that taking the pill significantly heightens your breast-cancer risk. Millions of women can rest easy, because it isn't true. But be aware that using hormone-replacement therapy does raise your risk during the time you take it and shortly thereafter.

Mammograms are not the only screening option. Magnetic resonance imaging tests, also known as MRIs, are more thorough than mammograms when it comes to spotting cancers. The problem is that they find more growths that appear suspicious but are actually harmless. Insurance also doesn't normally cover MRIs. Women can discuss their screening options with their doctors, who will decide on a case-by-case basis what the appropriate next step should be.

Some cases of breast cancer may be prevented. You can't do much about your genes, but studies show that only a small percentage of cases are due to the so-called "breast cancer gene." What can you do? Continue to be vigilant about screening, and be more aware of your diet and lifestyle habits. Eat less saturated fat and more fiber, drink sparingly, exercise regularly, and don't smoke.


Source: National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, www.nbcam.org