5 Things You Might Not Know about Breast Cancer

As a woman sits in a window, she reflects on the things she didn't know about breast cancer.

Contributed by Christine Binney

Over the course of a lifetime, invasive breast cancer will develop in about one in eight women in the United States. Since it is such a prevalent disease, there are countless organizations that exist to spread awareness about breast cancer. Yet despite the public awareness, there are still aspects of the disease that are unknown to many. Here are five things you might not know about breast cancer.


1. 3D mammograms can improve screening.

Many health authorities suggest that all women begin getting annual mammograms at age 40. As we all know, early detection is key in the fight against breast cancer. New technologies on the market have made three-dimensional mammograms possible and the results are very promising. Researchers have found that 3D mammography, used in conjunction with standard mammograms, increases breast cancer detection rates by over 40 percent. Not only do 3D mammograms detect cancer better, they also help prevent false alarms, which can be anxiety-inducing and emotionally draining for patients. With 3D machines, fewer women are being called back in for unnecessary testing. There are more and more 3D mammography facilities popping up across the United States, so it may soon become the norm.


2. Over 2,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men this year.

When we think about breast cancer, we usually think about women. However, it is possible for men to be diagnosed as well. Since breast cancer in men is much rarer than in women, researchers and psychologists know less about the experiences of men facing the disease. There is also a sparse amount of current research on treatments being carried out in men. Survival rates for men are similar to those for women when the stage at diagnosis is the same. However, breast cancer is typically diagnosed at a much later stage in men, which is why public awareness about breast cancer in men is so important.


3. Breast cancer may spread elsewhere in the body.

In some cases, cancer cells can leave the breast and travel to other parts of the body through the blood or lymphatic systems. This spread is called metastasis or secondary cancer. Cancer cells that disperse through the blood often affect the bones, liver and lungs. Cells that travel through the lymphatic system can spread to lymph nodes like those in the neck or collarbone. These cancer cells can be killed with systemic treatments so that they don’t continue to travel to a vital organ. Systemic treatments include chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. The possibility of secondary cancer is yet another reason why early detection is so important.


4. Many people continue work during breast cancer treatment.

Going through treatment for breast cancer can be both physically and emotionally draining. A person’s instinct might tell them to take time away from work to focus on their recovery, but a lot of people find that continuing to work during treatment is beneficial for them. For some, it provides a way to take their mind off cancer and focus on something else. People who choose to work during breast cancer treatment and chemotherapy will benefit most from colleagues who are compassionate about the situation and flexible when it comes to scheduling and appointments. Helping colleagues learn about breast cancer can bring about a closer work environment by allowing for meaningful displays of care and concern. Co-workers should be aware of the side effects of chemotherapy, including nausea and tiredness, and lend a helping hand whenever possible.


5. It’s not uncommon to feel depressed once breast cancer treatment is over.

Believe it or not, instead of feeling triumphant or relieved that chemotherapy is over, many breast cancer survivors find that they become depressed. During treatment, most people have the strong support of friends, family and neighbors to help them through. They come to rely on the emotional support, the company, and the sense of community. As treatment comes to an end, loved ones may quickly assume everything will go back to “normal” or the way it was pre-cancer. They may stop checking in as often and make their presence more scarce, which can lead breast cancer survivors to feel let down, sad, anxious or scared. Just because the chemotherapy has finished, remember that cancer survivors will still be dealing with plenty of emotional and physical side effects and they still need support.