Common Myths & Misconceptions of Advanced Breast Cancer
There are many myths and misconceptions about advanced breast cancer, and it is important to learn the facts. Below are some of the common myths and misconceptions about breast cancer.
Myth: Having bilateral mastectomies (both breasts surgically removed) prevents metastatic breast cancer
Some women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer, or those who are concerned about developing a second breast cancer may choose to have bilateral prophylactic (preventive) mastectomies. While removing the breasts can reduce the risk of breast cancer by approximately 90%, it is impossible to completely remove all breast cells. It is possible for breast cancer to develop from the small amounts of breast tissue that are left after bilateral mastectomies. Currently, there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer.1
Myth: If the breast cancer recurs, it’s proof you didn’t get the right treatment in the first place
There is no treatment that can guarantee that someone won’t get a recurrence. The available treatment options have been researched and have proven to be the best-known strategies to reduce the risk of recurrence, but some cancer cells may survive treatment and later develop into a recurrent breast cancer.2
Myth: There’s no treatment for metastatic breast cancer
There is currently no cure for metastatic breast cancer, but there are many treatment options. Treatment may include hormone therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, surgery, and/or radiation therapy.3 Many people live for years with metastatic or advanced breast cancer, and the number of women living with metastatic breast cancer is increasing, due in part to the improvements in treatment.4
Myth: If you participate in a clinical trial, you may get only placebo
There are many different types of clinical trials. Some don’t even involve studying treatment but evaluate other parts of healthcare, such as diagnostic procedures or quality of life. While some clinical trials study a new potential treatment, other trials compare two different treatments or two dosages of the same treatment. In almost all situations, it would be unethical to not provide any type of treatment to a trial participant. Often, trials will compare a group of people taking the current best available treatment option, sometimes called the ‘gold standard’, to a new experimental treatment in addition to standard treatment. In other situations, researchers may be conducting a clinical trial to test new dosages for an already approved treatment.
Myth: Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women
While breast cancer is more common than lung cancer in women, lung cancer in women is the cause of more deaths each year. In 2018, it is estimated that 40,920 women will die from breast cancer and 70,500 women will die from lung cancer.5,6
Myth: Only women get breast cancer
While the majority of breast cancers occur in women, breast cancer can develop in men. In 2018, it is estimated that 2,550 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Men who develop breast cancer are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage, which may be due in part to a lack of awareness of the possibility of male breast cancer, or to a delay in seeking treatment when symptoms occur.7,8
Myth: Breast cancer only occurs in older, post-menopausal women
While most women who develop breast cancer are older, breast cancer can occur in younger women. Approximately 11% of all invasive breast cancers are diagnosed in women under the age of 45, and breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in young adults.9
Preventive surgery to reduce breast cancer risk. American Cancer Society. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention/preventive-surgery-to-reduce-breast-cancer-risk.html. Accessed 9/4/18.
Recurrent breast cancer. Mayo Clinic. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/recurrent-breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20377135. Accessed 9/4/18.
Treatment of stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer. American Cancer Society. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/treatment-of-breast-cancer-by-stage/treatment-of-stage-iv-advanced-breast-cancer.html. Accessed 9/4/18.
Study estimates number of U.S. women living with metastatic breast cancer. National Cancer Institute. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/press-releases/2017/metastatic-breast-cancer-survival-rates. Accessed 9/4/18.
Cancer stat facts: female breast cancer. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, National Cancer Institute. Available at https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/breast.html. Accessed 9/4/18.
Key statistics for lung cancer. American Cancer Society. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-small-cell-lung-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Accessed 9/4/18.
Cancer statistics center, breast. American Cancer Society. Available at https://cancerstatisticscenter.cancer.org/#!/cancer-site/Breast. Accessed 9/4/18.
Male breast cancer. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Available at http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/male-breast-cancer. Accessed 9/4/18.
Rosenberg SM, Newman LA, Partridge AH. Breast cancer in young women: rare disease or public health problem? JAMA Oncol. 2015;1(7):877-878. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.2112.