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63% of Albertan women aged 50-74 had a screening mammogram during 2015-2016.
Myths and Facts
Learn the truth behind some common myths.
Myth #1: An abnormal mammogram means I have cancer.
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.
Myth #2: Breast cancer isn’t very common.
In fact, 1 in 8 Alberta women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
Myth #3: Only women with a family history of breast cancer will get it.
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.
Myth #4: Women with small breasts can’t get breast cancer.
Women with breasts of all shapes and sizes are at risk of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate according to size.
Myth #5: Regular mammograms can’t detect small tumours any sooner than women could find them themselves.
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.
Myth #6: Men do not get breast cancer.
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).
Myth #7: Having a mammogram can cause breast cancer or can cause an already existing cancer to spread.
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.
Myth #8: Women who have breast implants can’t have mammograms.
Mammograms are recommended for women who have breast implants. If you have breast implants, you should tell the clinic before your mammogram.
Myth #9: There is nothing a woman can do to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer.
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.
Myth #10: Monthly self-examination is the best way to find breast cancer early.
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.
Myth #11: Mammograms catch EVERY breast cancer.
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. Having dense breasts can also make it harder to find cancer on a mammogram. Learn more about breast density and what you can do here.
Myth #12: Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer.
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.
Myth #13: Cell phone use causes breast cancer.
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).
Myth #14: Thermography is an effective breast cancer screening tool.
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 idea that tumours can be detected by the warmth caused by increased blood flow.
Breast thermography is not approved by the United States FDA or Health Canada 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. Thermography is not an insured service in Alberta.
For more information from Health Canada please click on the following link: Health Canada Recalls and Safety Alerts
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.
Myth #15: Wearing an underwire bra causes cancer.
No research shows that wearing an underwire bra increases your risk of breast cancer.
Myth #16: Breast clips are always necessary and free when getting a biopsy.
Breast clips are a small piece of metal that are sometimes put into the breast during a biopsy (small piece of tissue taken to check for cancer) in order to help keep track of where the biopsy was taken.
Breast clips are not always covered by the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan. If you need to have a biopsy, talk to your healthcare provider about your need for a breast clip and any options available to you.
Myth #17: Tomosynthesis and digital mammography are the same thing.
Digital mammography (sometimes abbreviated as 2D mammo) takes two x-ray images of each breast during a screening exam. Tomosynthesis (sometimes abbreviated as Tomo, DBT, or 3D mammo for short) takes x-rays of the breast, like a digital mammogram. However, this newer technology takes multiple pictures from different angles, resulting in 3D like videos of the breasts.
Myth #18: Tomosynthesis is better than digital mammography for breast cancer screening.
Tomosynthesis is not recommended for breast cancer screening on its own. Instead, it is sometimes added (supplemental) to digital mammography during screening. Because tomosynthesis takes more pictures it may provide some additional benefits to mammography done without tomosynthesis. Women at higher risk of breast cancer may benefit more from the addition of tomosynthesis. However, this should be based on overall risk and not just based on one factor, such as breast density. Speak with your healthcare provider about your personal risk for breast cancer. There are also several tools you can use to assess your risk for breast cancer. Click here, or on Your Risk Factors, and use the Tools for Assessing Your Personal Risk dropdown for a list of some of the available risk assessment tools.
Keep in mind that supplemental tomosynthesis is still being studied to see if it is an effective screening tool for population based screening programs. As a result, it is not yet clear if women have better outcomes (for example, live longer due to finding breast cancer earlier) when screened with tomosynthesis in addition to digital mammography.