Think you know all there is to know about breast cancer? Despite mountains of news and information distributed in recent years about breast cancer, myths still persist and prevent many women from getting screened for the disease, estimated to kill more than 43,000 people this year. A new study published this month has found that women who received personal coaching from non-medical or lay health advisors were more likely to get mammogram screenings. The widely used early detection x-ray screening is recommended for women over 40 and those with family or personal histories of breast cancer. The personalized coaching included everything from where to go for testing to how to do breast self-examinations. Ohio State University researchers randomly selected 841 women over the age of 40 in a rural North Carolina county, where breast cancer rates exceed the state average. None of the participants had received mammograms during the previous 12 months. Some were visited three times by advisors while others received informational brochures in the mail. The group that received personal visits was nearly twice as likely to get mammograms as those who got mailers. Results of the study were published in the Sept. 6 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The advisors often dispelled myths about breast cancer harbored by the women. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, which compiled a list of breast cancer myths, many people still believe that finding a lump in your breast means you definitely have breast cancer. That belief is wrong. The fact is, only 20 percent of lumps found in breasts are cancerous. Monthly breast self-examinations can reveal unusual lumps or changes in breast tissue. Unfortunately, many women are afraid to follow up with a physician or get a mammogram to confirm whether the lump is harmless (or benign). Another myth: men don't get breast cancer. In fact, nearly 1,600 men are likely to be diagnosed with the disease this year. For 400 of them, it will be fatal. Although these numbers are far lower than women, it is still a serious condition for anyone. Experts urge men, too, to examine their breasts each month for lumps or unusual changes or discharges. Mammograms, are at the center of another common misconception. According to the Breast Cancer Foundation, mammograms do not cause the cancer to spread. But some women use this as an excuse to avoid having the screening. Women with family histories of breast cancer often worry that they are destined to get breast cancer as well. Although having relatives (mother, daughter, sister or grandmother) with the condition increases your risk, it is just that - a risk and not a certainty. In fact, knowing you have a family history should prompt you to take proactive steps to prevent breast cancer or catch it at an early stage. Doctors recommend women with family histories begin mammogram screenings five years before the age at which their relatives were diagnosed. A reminder:
This year, National Mammography Day falls on Oct. 20, as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For more information on national events taking place, including facilities offering free or reduced priced mammogram screenings in your area, contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345.