My grandma was a breast cancer survivor. I didn't know it when I was younger, but that family history of breast cancer would lead me into a life of early mammogram detection. I started getting mammograms when I was 35. I didn't really know what to expect for my first one, but it was super easy. They really do mean it, by the way, when they say, "a little squeeze here." I wound up chatting with the friendly woman giving me my mammogram about some of the myths around breast cancer. I asked her if she ever had any men come in for mammograms. She replied, "More than you would think." I thought it would be interesting to talk to further with an expert about the myths surrounding breast cancer because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so, I met with Julie Specht, MD, an oncologist with The Christ Hospital Physicians – Hematology & Oncology. Watch the video or check out the fact or fiction info we discussed below!
Fact or fiction: Only women can get breast cancer.
Dr. Specht: No, not true. Though it's rare in men, we definitely see breast cancer in men, particularly men that might have an inherited reason to have breast cancer, like the BRCA or BRCA Syndrome.
Fact or fiction: Breast cancer is always found in the form of a lump.
Dr. Specht: No, not at all. That's the whole reason of screening mammograms because often we don't know that we have breast cancer, and we can find it with just new areas of calcification on a mammogram.
Yes, but you should also be checking for lumps regularly, right?
Dr. Specht: Absolutely. We recommend monthly exams and then doing an annual exam with your provider.
How often should I be doing the shower check where I feel for all that stuff?
Dr. Specht: I generally recommend once a month, around the same time of month, so that you can coordinate what your breasts feel like around your cycle, particularly in premenopausal women.
Fact or fiction: Wearing a wire bra can increase my chance of getting breast cancer.
Dr. Specht: It does not increase your risk of getting breast cancer. It may not be comfortable after you've had breast cancer, because a lot of women get radiation therapy, and it's not necessarily as comfortable afterwards, but it does not increase your risk of breast cancer.
As long as we're on that, neither does deodorant. That's another one I hear all the time.
That was the next one. Fact or fiction: Wearing deodorant with aluminum can increase my chance of breast cancer.
Dr. Specht: I have looked into this. There have been several large meta-analysis looking at this and there's just no data that wearing deodorant, particularly the aluminum-based ones, does anything to increase your risk of breast cancer.
Here's another one. Not wearing a bra—is that good or bad for my breast health?
Dr. Specht: I think in terms of breast cancer health, it does not make a difference. In terms of back health, if you've got larger breasts, you probably want to wear a good, supportive bra.
If I wear a bra 24/7, will that cause breast cancer? Should I let the girls breathe a little?
Dr. Specht: It does not make a difference. If you want to wear it 24/7, or if you wear it 12 hours on/12 hours off, it doesn't make a difference in terms of breast cancer risk.
Are mammograms the only way to detect breast cancer?
Dr. Specht: No, actually. I'm glad you asked that. We already talked about a good physical exam and going to your doctor, but certain women are high enough risk that they might want to get either MRIs alternating with mammograms, or ultrasounds alternating with mammograms. If you think that you might be at higher risk of breast cancer, we actually have this great high-risk breast cancer clinic here at Christ Hospital where they can assess your individual risk. Generally, we say if your lifetime risk of breast cancer is over, say, 17 or 18%, that you might want to get an MRI alternating with a mammogram.
Is there a list of things I should be paying attention to, or aware of, like if I have a family history and if I'm over 30? What are the rules on what I should be doing as far as that's concerned?
Dr. Specht: I think one is talking to your provider about if you might be at an increased risk. Knowing your family history, your own history of when you started menstruating, if you've ever had a breast biopsy, if it's ever been abnormal, puts you at higher risk of breast cancer. It's a great thing to talk about with your provider, but also if you get your mammogram within Christ Hospital, we have something called the Gia chatbot. It's actually this app that we push out to patients that asks all these questions to help assess.
I did totally receive a text from the Gia chatbot. When I signed up for my mammogram—and it was super easy, by the way; all you do is you go to the website, and schedule online. Then Gia asks some of those questions—your family history questions—and you fill that out.
Dr. Specht: Then, if you're higher risk, it actually shoots an alert right out to your primary care provider to say, "Hey, your patient may be at higher risk; consider referring them to the high-risk clinic to talk about what their risks may be."
Amazing! Our last fact or fiction: Having breast implants can raise your risk for breast cancer.
Dr. Specht: For breast cancer, no. There is a very, very rare cancer called Angioimmunoblastic T-cell Lymphoma that some women with breast implants can get, but it's a super rare risk. For the majority of breast implants, there's no increased risk of cancer and they're very, very safe.
Tell me a little bit about breast cancer care at The Christ Hospital.
Dr. Specht: Our breast cancer program includes everything from radiation oncology to surgical oncology and medical oncology. We've got some wonderful navigators that help the patient from the moment that they have an abnormal mammogram all the way through the end of their treatment. As the director of that, I get to help bring it all together and make sure that we're keeping all the standards that we need to. We recently got our NAPBC (National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers) certification; we're very excited about that.
That does sound exciting. Recently I just got my mammogram here at The Christ Hospital's Red Bank location; that's why we're doing this today. It's very important for people to get mammograms. At what age should they start?
Dr. Specht: I don't think that there's a one size fits all. I think some of it depends on your personal risk, your family history. If you have a strong family history, you might need to get your mammogram in your 30s. For an average-risk individual, we would recommend starting around age 40 to 45, and then doing an annual mammogram after that.
Schedule your mammogram online or learn more about breast cancer services at The Christ Hospital.