Dispelling Breast Cancer and Mammogram Myths

By Becca Pitan

As a mammographer and breast ultrasound technologist, I hear a lot of misconceptions about imaging and breast cancer. I’d like to dispel a few common myths I hear most often.

Myth: I don’t have any family history of breast cancer, so I don’t have to be worried about it.

That’s great that you don’t have a history, but unfortunately, you’re not off the hook. The average risk for breast cancer is 1 in 8 women, and about 85% of those diagnosed with breast cancer do NOT have family history. So just keep getting those annual mammograms.

Myth: My grandma had breast cancer when she was 65, so I’m high risk and doomed.

Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but I’ll be honest, that was my thought before I went into the breast imaging field. My grandma DID die from breast cancer in her 60’s, so I always wondered what that meant for me. There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether someone is considered high risk, so it’s best to ask your doctor if you’re not sure. But, generally speaking, family history can increase your risk if you have two or more close relatives with breast or ovarian cancer, a mother or sister with premenopausal breast cancer, or male relatives with breast cancer.

Myth: Mammograms give people cancer and have tons of radiation, so they should be avoided.

Mammograms have been proven to be the best way to catch early breast cancers. The radiation levels are incredibly small, and well below limits set by the government. There have actually been no documented cases of anyone receiving cancer from getting a mammogram. Considering how many women do get breast cancer, you’re more likely (by a long shot) to be harmed by the cancer than the mammogram itself.

A note on resources: all information provided is from either the stores of my brain or from educational resources provided by my employer.