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Breaking Through Breast Cancer Myths with Katrina Birdwell, M.D., FACS

October 07, 2019

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women – and it’s often misunderstood. In the U.S., one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer during her lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. With such prevalence, it’s no surprise a sample online search for “breast cancer” generates more than 374 million results. 

There’s no shortage of information, but how much of it is reliable and backed by data? Katrina Birdwell, M.D., FACS, of Texas Breast Specialists, who sees patients in Dallas, Mansfield, and Waxahachie, says part of her role as a breast surgeon is addressing misinformation and incomplete details about the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. From symptoms to surgery, Dr. Birdwell breaks down several common breast cancer myths. 

Myth: Lumps in the breast are always signs of breast cancer. If I can’t feel lumps, I must not have cancer. 

Many people associate lumps as the primary symptom of breast cancer – but it’s not the only symptom, and just because you have a lump doesn’t mean you have cancer. The opposite can also be true, as some breast cancers detected during screening mammograms are too small to feel. These tend to be early cancers that are highly treatable. That is why we do mammograms, to find breast cancer before the lumps are large enough to feel or detect. 

Myth: The only way to treat breast cancer is with a mastectomy. 

Breast cancer treatment varies by patient and may include surgical removal of the cancer cells through mastectomy, which is complete removal of one or both breasts, or lumpectomy (partial mastectomy), the removal of the cancer and a part of normal breast tissue surrounding the tumor. Other treatments may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, proton therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or hormonal therapy, or a combination. 

Eliminating cancer is my top priority as a breast cancer surgeon. There are sometimes factors that make one surgery option or another better for a patient, but the decision is highly personal and often accompanied by a range of emotions, including fear of losing their breasts.”

I talk with patients about their treatment and surgical options on the first visit after diagnosis and encourage them to ask questions and have candid conversations.

Myth: Once I finish breast cancer treatment, the cancer will never come back. 

Many people think that breast cancer treatments, including surgery, will permanently eliminate breast cancer cells. Once the cancer has been removed and all treatments are complete, there is still a risk of the original cancer coming back. This is called recurrence, and it depends on the patient’s age, genetics, stage, and type of breast cancer. 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Texas Oncology wants men and women of all ages to stay informed about screenings, prevention, and risk factors. Download the breast cancer fact sheet and share it with others.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.