Breast Cancer Myths vs. Reality

Fear and confusion are at the heart of myths about breast cancer. Yet, the truth is breast cancer detection and treatment has improved dramatically. Don't let these seven myths stop you from getting the care you need.

Myth: Breast cancer has become an epidemic in young women.


Reality: Although more women are at risk, 95% of breast cancer cases occur in women ages 40 and over, and more than three quarters occur in women ages 50 and over.

Myth: Breast cancer kills more women than any other disease.

Reality: More American women die of heart disease and lung cancer. In addition, women with breast cancer have a 5-year survival rate of over 96% if their cancer has not spread beyond the breast at the time of diagnosis. Early diagnosis is the key to survival.

Myth: Women without a family history of breast cancer are not at risk.

Reality: The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no close relatives (mother, sister, or daughter) with the disease. For this reason, all women need to follow the American Cancer Society's screening recommendations.

Myth: Mammograms are painful.

Reality: Modern mammography equipment is designed to minimize the degree of discomfort, but compression of the breast is essential for high quality mammograms. Since breasts can be tender just before or after menstruation, women may prefer to schedule a mammogram at a different time.

Myth: Underarm antiperspirants and underwire bras cause breast cancer.

Reality: This rumor spread rapidly by e-mail, but no studies have ever shown that using antiperspirants or wearing any type of bra increases the risk of, much less causes, breast cancer. The biggest factors for breast cancer are being a woman and growing older.

Myth: Detecting breast cancer means losing a breast.

Reality: At one time, mastectomy was standard therapy, but now many women have more than one choice. The combination of lumpectomy and radiation is performed much more commonly.

Myth: Mammograms are expensive and are not covered by insurance.

Reality: Mammography coverage by private health plans is mandated in most states. Medicaid programs in a majority of states and Washington, D.C. cover screenings. Coverage is also provided by Medicare, public employee health plans, and many ERISA (or self-insured) plans. Each plan is different, so check coverage details ahead of time. Women who are uninsured should research low-cost certified mammography programs in their community.

 See the next page to learn more about how to detect breast cancer.


Guidelines for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer

Age 40+:

  • An annual mammogram
  • Annual clinical breast examination (CBE) by a doctor or nurse (CBE should be done close to the time of the mammogram)
  • Monthly breast self-examination

Age 20-39:

  • Clinical breast examination by a doctor or nurse every three years
  • Monthly breast self-examination

If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, discuss mammography screening guidelines and scheduling with your health care provider.



Courtesy American Cancer Society. You can receive additional breast health and cancer information and talk with others who've experienced breast cancer by visiting


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