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With so much information out there about breast cancer, sometimes it's difficult to separate myth from reality. But, without a realistic picture of the disease, you may not recognize whether you're at risk and take steps to protect yourself. That's why knowing the truth is so important.
Here are three common beliefs about the disease followed by what you really need to know:
Myth: A family history of breast cancer is the number one risk factor for the disease.
Reality: If a close relative had breast cancer, then you have a higher risk of developing it, too, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But about 90 percent of women with breast cancer have no known family history of the disease. Just being a woman puts you at risk, but growing older has the biggest effect on how likely you are to develop the disease. A majority of cases of women with breast cancer are older than age 50 when they're diagnosed.
Myth: Breast cancer is the number one cause of death in women.
Reality: Although breast cancer may be near the top of the list, it isn't in the lead. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that around 27 percent of women die from heart disease and 22 percent die from cancer, including breast cancer. But, breast cancer is still a serious health threat. It's ranked second, behind lung cancer, and claims the lives of more than 40,000 women a year.
Myth: Doing a breast self-exam (BSE) every month is the best way to detect a lump.
Reality: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend BSEs because evidence suggests BSEs do not lower risk for death from breast cancer. The American Cancer Society says BSEs are an option for women 20 and older as a means of familiarizing themselves with their breasts so they can notice changes more easily. Talking with your doctor about the benefits and limitations can help you decide if you should start performing BSEs.