Breast cancer is one of the most misunderstood diseases and there are many myths & half – truths surrounding the disease. Whether it’s the symptoms to watch out for or the best age to get a mammogram, what you think of as fact may actually be completely false. Some patients swear that wearing an under-wired bra can cause breast cancer, but the reality is that there is no scientific support for this claim. On the other hand, if you think you’re not at risk because there’s no history of breast cancer in your family, you might be mistaken. Read on to find out how to separate fact from fiction so you can stay safe.
Myth #1: If you have a family history of breast cancer, you are likely to develop breast cancer, too.
While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Statistically only about 10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of this disease.
- If you have a first degree relative with breast cancer: If you have a mother, daughter, or sister who developed breast cancer below the age of 50, you should consider some form of regular diagnostic breast imaging starting 10 years before the age of your relative’s diagnosis.
- If you have a second degree relative with breast cancer: If you have had a grandmother or aunt who was diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk increases slightly, but it is not in the same risk category as those who have a first degree relative with breast cancer.
- If you have multiple generations diagnosed with breast cancer on the same side of the family, or if there are several individuals who are first degree relatives to one another, or several family members diagnosed under age 50, the probability increases that there is a breast cancer gene contributing to the cause of this familial history.
Myth #2: Breast cancer always appears as a lump
Approximately 10% of those diagnosed with breast cancer have no lumps, pain or other indications of a problem in their breasts.
And among lumps that are detected, 80 to 85% are benign. They’re often cysts or benign tumors called fibroadenomas. That said, any lump or breast symptom (especially from the list below) that does not go away should be checked by a breast surgeon:
- A change in how the breast or nipple feels or looks
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
- Breast pain or nipple tenderness
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- A nipple or skin that turns inward into the breast
- Feeling warm to the touch
- Scaly, red, or swollen skin of the breast, areola, or nipple, perhaps with ridges or pitting that resembles an orange peel
- Nipple discharge
Myth #3: Deodorant and antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
One email rumor claimed that antiperspirant prevents you from sweating out toxins, which can then accumulate in the lymph nodes and cause breast cancer. But in 2002, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle conducted a study to address this rumor—and found no link between deodorant or antiperspirant and breast cancer.
A second rumor speculated that certain chemicals in antiperspirants, such as aluminum and parabens, may cause breast cancer because there is a lower prevalence of the disease in developing countries where women don’t use these products. However, toxins are not usually released through sweat, and in Europe, where antiperspirants are not widely used, the rate of breast cancer is higher than it is in the United States. Finally, although a 2004 study found parabens in the tissue of breast cancer tumors, so far no studies have shown that these or any other chemicals in deodorants and antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
Myth #4: Wearing a bra increases your cancer risk.
There is no good scientific or clinical basis to support the claim that plain or underwire bras cause breast cancer.
This rumor appears to have started after a book called Dressed to Kill suggested that bras obstruct toxin-laden lymph fluid from flowing out of the breast. However, this was speculation based on a survey and no scientific evidence. Since then, major medical institutions, such as the National Cancer Institute and the ACS, have refuted the claim.
Myth #5: Young women don’t get breast cancer.
While it’s true the disease is more common in postmenopausal women, breast cancer can affect people of any age.
In fact, women under 50 account for 25% of all breast cancer cases, and they tend to have higher mortality rates. This may be partly explained by the fact that younger women tend to have denser breasts, which makes it harder to spot lumps during mammograms. Because of this, it’s a good idea to perform monthly self- breast exams starting at age 20, have a clinical exam by a doctor every 3 years, and speak with your doctor about whether you should start mammographic screening at age 40.