4 Lies and a Truth About Having Breast Cancer

If you do get breast cancer, you might hear these lies.
by Shaun Dreisbach, Glamour

"If your doctor's not up on the latest advances, he could be giving you outdated advice," says Lillie Shockney, R.N., a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "I've seen it happen to too many young women." Never take these phrases at face value.

Lie #1: "We have to operate right away."
Many doctors rush patients into surgery, telling them there's no time to weigh options. "It's intimidating," says Shockney, a two-time breast cancer survivor herself. "They make people think they're going to drop dead by Monday." The reality? Most breast cancers are slower-growing than women realize, and top oncologists agree that once a woman has her diagnosis, she can usually safely spend up to four weeks deciding what treatment to pursue. Says Shockney: "Nothing's worse than having surgery, then realizing you could have done something else."

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Lie #2: "Your best option is a mastectomy."
For some patients--like those with aggressive cases or a family history, or who test positive for a breast cancer gene--it may be. But for those who don't fit these criteria, "there is no evidence that a mastectomy will lead to a better survival outcome," says Patricia Ganz, M.D., a professor at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. "A lumpectomy with radiation is often equally as good." Unfortunately, there's been a surge of mastectomies in younger women. That's due to two factors, experts believe. One, doctors often mistakenly assume that cancers in young women are aggressive and apt to recur. Two, MRIs are being used more often to detect breast cancer, and they have a high rate of false positives. "Doctors may say to a young woman, 'Your MRI shows suspicious areas in addition to what we already biopsied. We're not sure if they're cancerous, but if you want to play it safe, you're better off removing the whole breast,' " says Dr. Ganz. The lesson? Always request that second opinion.

Lie #3: "You can worry about reconstruction later." It can be a good idea to put off reconstruction if you know you'll need radiation (which may damage an implant) or if you need time to decide what kind of implant, if any, you'd like. But many doctors discourage patients from having a mastectomy and reconstruction together solely because it's a hassle to coordinate both surgeons' schedules, says Julie Gralow, M.D., director of breast medical oncology at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Yet when you delay reconstruction, "you never get as good a result because you've taken off all the skin, which could be used right then and there in the reconstruction," says Jill Dietz, M.D., a breast surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. So if you do know what you want, insist on having the surgeries simultaneously.

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Lie #4: "You'll be infertile." Some types of chemo do damage your ovaries, but Dr. Ganz's research has found that certain regimens are less likely to have this effect. Still, "not all doctors have heard of these," she says, so they push older, less fertility-friendly chemo plans. If you're concerned, see a breast cancer fertility specialist.

But remember this truth:
"The more you learn, the more confident you'll be in your decisions," says Gwen Stritter, M.D., a breast cancer patient advocate in Portola Valley, California. "The old adage 'Knowledge is power' is especially true for women and breast cancer." --Judy Dutton

Click here for the full story: 7 Things No One Ever Tells You About Breast Cancer.

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