When Should I Worry About...

Q&A: Understanding Breast Cancer

Oct. 3, 2019

Women are bombarded with information about breast cancer — which can lead to confusion.

Dr. Esther Dubrovsky, breast surgeon at Houston Methodist, is here to answer common questions about breast cancer.

Q: Does finding a lump in your breast mean you have breast cancer? 

A: If you feel a lump or notice any other changes in your breasts, see your health care provider. The majority of lumps in women under the age of 30 are benign, or not cancerous, but they should still be checked. Don’t avoid seeing your doctor because you’re afraid of what he or she may find. If you are over the age of 40, and notice a new lump, then it is more concerning. In that case, you should call your doctor for the next available appointment to determine if you need a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound.

Take charge of your health by knowing how your breasts normally look and feel, as well as having regular mammograms and other screening tests recommended by your health care provider. 

Q: Can men get breast cancer? 

A: Actually, this year, approximately 2,550 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Men, just like women, should know their bodies and mention any breast changes, such as a lump or swelling, nipple discharge, skin dimpling or puckering, redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin, to their doctors. (Related: 5 Facts Every Guy Should Know About Male Breast Cancer)

Q: Does pregnancy increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence? 

A: There’s been a concern that if you were treated for breast cancer in the past, high hormone levels during pregnancy might increase the chance of the cancer coming back. But pregnancy doesn’t increase this risk — as long as the cancer didn’t spread beyond the breast and your treatment was successful. Doctors often counsel women to wait at least two years after breast cancer treatment before becoming pregnant, as most recurrences happen during that time. 

Q: If you have a family history of breast cancer, does it mean you’re destined to be diagnosed, too? 

A: Women who have a family history of breast cancer are at higher risk, but this doesn't mean they will develop the disease. If any of the women in your family have had breast cancer, it’s important to get a risk assessment by your doctor so he or she can develop an appropriate screening plan. Also, your doctor might recommend genetic testing, which consists of a simple saliva or blood test. (Related: Cancer Genetic Counseling: Can Hereditary Cancer Be Prevented?)

And even if you do have a greater risk, your doctor may recommend preventive medications or surgery to lower your likelihood of developing the disease.

Q: Does using antiperspirant and deodorant cause breast cancer? 

A: According to the American Cancer Society, there’s no proof that using antiperspirant or deodorant causes breast cancer. Some people claim these products contain harmful ingredients that could be absorbed through small nicks in the skin caused by shaving, but there’s no evidence to support this. (Related: Should You Switch to Natural Deodorant?)