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Fact and fiction about breast cancer

Your life could depend on differentiating fact from fiction, so here are some of the basic facts from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Prevention.com, Breastcancer.org and MayoClinic.com.

Myth: All breast lumps are cancerous.

Fact: 8 out of 10 breast lumps are benign (not cancerous).

Myth: Only women get breast cancer.

Fact: 1,970 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2010.

Myth: Mammograms cause breast cancer to spread.

Fact: Neither the radiation nor the pressure placed on the breast from the mammogram can cause breast cancer to spread.

Myth: If your grandmother, mother or sister had breast cancer you will get it, too.

Fact: Only 15 percent to 20 percent of women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease.

Myth: If no one in your family has had breast cancer, you won't get it either.

Fact: 80 percent to 85 percent of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.

Myth: Your genetic risk of getting breast cancer comes only from your mother's side of the family.

Fact: Half of your genes come from your mother and half from your father. Therefore both sides of your family influence your risk equally.

Myth: Eating high-fat foods causes breast cancer.

Fact: Excess body weight is the risk factor, not the high-fat foods themselves, although fatty foods contribute to excess body weight. Explanation from the National Cancer Institute: Excess body weight increases estrogen production and adds to the overall level of estrogen in the body, and estrogen stimulates the proliferation of both normal breast cells and cells with cancer-producing DNA mutations.

Myth: A mutation in your BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene means you will get breast cancer.

Fact: Although changes in these genes predispose men and women to an increased risk of breast cancer, only 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancer patients have the mutation.

Myth: Only "old" women get breast cancer.

Fact: 25 percent of women with breast cancer are younger than 50.

Myth: Breast cancer is a death sentence.

Fact: Up to 98 percent of women survive at least five years when their cancer is caught early, and 85 percent to 90 percent survive at least 10 years.

Myth: If no sign of cancer shows up on your mammogram, you definitely don't have breast cancer.

Fact: Mammography catches the majority of breast cancers but not all. In addition to mammography, women should have their breasts examined annually by their health care provider and perform monthly self-examinations.

Myth: Cancerous breast lumps are painless.

Fact: Cancerous breast lumps are usually painless, but not always.

Myth: There's nothing you can do to prevent getting breast cancer.

Fact: Research summarized by MayoClinic.com indicates you can definitely minimize your risk of getting breast cancer by: maintaining a healthy weight; avoiding alcohol or limiting its use to less than one drink per day; getting regular exercise; minimizing the duration of hormone therapy; and limiting your use of pesticides and antibiotics.

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