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Misconceptions about breast health

Published: 
Sunday, February 28, 2016
The radiation dose given in mammography is very low and there is no scientific evidence proving cancers develop as a result of this.

Dr Shashta Sawh 
Breast physician, Pink Hibiscus 

At Pink Hibiscus, I see many women of varying ages who seem to share some of the same confusion and misconceptions about breast cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment. This I’ve found contributes not only to women being misguided and doing more harm to themselves but also stirs up so much trepidation and anxiety which prevents them from even being assessed. 

Here are some of the common misconceptions I’ve encountered: 

1. Breast implants hinder screening—Women who may have or wish to undergo breast augmentation with implants are often under the assumption that having implants would make cancer screening impossible or difficult. This is not so. 

Having implants would not be a contraindication or prevent a mammogram or ultrasound from being performed by a trained personnel.  Women with implants are also fearful of undergoing any breast biopsies with the concern that the implants would be damaged. It is, however, important that these are performed by trained medical personnel at specialist breast units. 

2. Mammograms cause cancer—With years of research and study it has been shown than mammography is the number one screening tool for breast cancer and in many instances it is supplemented with a breast ultrasound. The latter does not replace the need for mammogram and this is also a very common misunderstanding. 

The radiation dose given in mammography is very low and there is no scientific evidence proving cancers develop as a result of this. The dosage received has been shown to be so low that it is comparable with the amount of background radiation a person normally receives from the environment over a three-month period. 

3. Breast cancer surgery is only mastectomy—Indeed, with the diagnosis of breast cancer comes the important question—what’s next? This in most instances involve some form of breast surgery to remove the cancer. However, the options are many and does not always need to be as drastic as a mastectomy. Breast cancer surgery is never the same for every woman.

Some compare their surgery with another whom they may know with breast cancer as well and believe they should have had the same. Having a consultation with a specialist breast surgeon can offer women with many choices and the best chosen for that given patient. 

4. Breast cancer occurs mainly in women with a family history—As startling as it may sound to many, this is quite the opposite. Statistics show that most breast cancer occurs in those without any family members having had breast cancer, accounting for approximately 85 per cent of cases.  Whilst the remaining 15 per cent of cases occur in patients with a positive family history and of that only five to ten per cent will have inherited a genetic mutation. 

5. Breast lumps are the only sign of breast cancer—Whilst a lump may be the most common presentation, it is indeed not the only sign. There are many changes with the breast which can be a red flag—ranging from changes in the shape and size of the breast, nipple discharge, a rash to no sign at all. It is for this latter reason that screening is vital to help in early detection. 

So let’s imagine for a minute with breast cancer as common as one out of every eight women being affected and there was no screening available for early detection. This would indeed be unfortunate, but luckily this is not so and it is available with mammography. The misconceptions about breast health and screening should be one of the past and not hinder screening.

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