Breast lumps and their myths

November 12, 2012

Breast lumps and their myths

Women need to be aware of their bodies and regular checks are advised to keep an eye out for suspicious lumps. If you find a lump though, it may not be as bad as it seems!

Many women will, at some point, find a lump in their breast. However a breast lump does not always mean the presence of cancer. In fact the reaction to the breast lump can, in cases where cancer is eventually diagnosed, make the difference between a terminal diagnosis and recovery after treatment. There are many myths surrounding breast lumps and what they mean, it is essential that women are fully equipped to carry out regular self-examinations and to know when they need medical help.

‘A breast lump is always cancer’

This is probably the most well known and widespread of the breast cancer myths. Whilst it is true that most (or all) women who find a breast lump THINK it is cancer it is not true that all breast lumps are cancerous.

A woman who finds a lump in her breast during self-examination should seek the advice of her medical examiner. The lump could be merely a cyst, a blood clot or an abnormal growth among other things – a number of tests may be carried out in order to fully evaluate the lump and make a diagnosis, these tests include a physical examination followed by a mammogram, ultrasound and, occasionally, a biopsy.

It is important to remember that whilst breast cancer does appear to more common in post-menopausal women it can occur in any women at any age and any lump should not be ignored.

‘It can’t be breast cancer – I can’t feel a lump’

This is, sadly, another myth. Most breast cancers are, in fact, found as a result of a routine mammogram where no lump has been yet been found.

‘A cancer lump feels different to an ordinary lump’

Again, this myth is not strictly true. Benign lumps can and do overlap with cancerous lumps. Cancerous breast lumps may feel hard and immobile or smooth and mobile, the same can be said for benign cysts – a cyst which is deep within the breast will feel very different from one which is nearer the surface. It is essential that any changes are noted and reported to the health care practitioner.

‘A small lump is nothing to worry about’

This myth is totally false – and quite dangerous. Cancer picked up during a mammogram is often extremely small, and, many lumps found during self examination may only be the size of a cherry and yet are found to be cancerous.

‘I don’t want to bother the doctor; I’ll just keep an eye on it’

This is bad advice and incorrect thinking. A woman finding a lump in her breast should always be checked out by her medical practitioner. Their recommendation may well be to keep an eye on the lump for a couple of months – particularly for pre-menopausal women. However this is a medical decision to be made by a health care professional – if you find a lump in your breast it is essential to have it checked out.

‘My lump can’t be cancer – I have no family history of breast cancer’

Another dangerous myth. Most breast cancer cases occur in women with no risk factors only around 10% of cases are found to be hereditary.

‘I get cysts so it won’t be breast cancer’

This is another myth which gives women a false sense of security. Women with a long history of cysts may fail to appreciate the danger of a new lump appearing. A new lump should never be presumed to be ‘just another cyst’ – any and all changes in the breast should be brought to the attention of your medical practitioner

All women should carry out monthly self-examination of their breasts and report any new changes to their medical practitioner for evaluation.

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