Deodorants cause breast cancer. An under-wire bra increases your risk. Men don’t get breast cancer. How many of these have you heard or read? Most likely, all of them. But more importantly, how many of them are actually true. Surprisingly, none of them.
You may be surprised that some of the “facts” you have heard about breast cancer are in truth nothing more than myths. Here we peel away some of the pink and separate fact from fiction. Our top ten breast cancer myths are specially chosen because they are often misunderstood by the public or misrepresented by the terror spreading hydra of the latest clear and present dangers of chemicals in use and high alerts. Ready? Here we go.
Myth 1: Men do not get breast cancer
Just because men don’t have “breasts” doesn’t mean they are immune to breast cancer. Admitted, their risk is very low – around 1%, its still exists. In 2010, reportedly 1,970 males were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, and out of approximately 40,230 deaths from breast cancer within the same year, around 390 were men.
Myth 2: Deodorants and antiperspirants increase your risk
This myth stems from the fact that breast cancer tumors contain traces of parabens, which are also the key ingredients in some deodorants and antiperspirants. And so using a deodorant becomes the horror of horrors. “I’d rather put a skunk to shame than use a deodorant”, you might say, or you use the dreaded toiletry and fret about it. The American Cancer Society has openly dispelled this myth. While they admit that further research is required, preliminary research carried out by the Society has not yet been able to establish a link between breast cancer and the use of deodorants and antiperspirants. Phew!
Myth 3: An underwire bra increases your risk
The theory is that underwire bras restrict the lymphatic system, which results in the accumulation of toxins leading to breast cancer. The reality is that this myth is completely “unscientific” – what you wear, or choose not to wear, including your choice of undergarments, has no bearing on your risk of breast cancer.
Myth 4: You can only get breast cancer if you have a family history
The fact is that over 75% of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have had no family history at all. It is true that having a blood relative with the condition increases your risk, but this does not mean that your risk is completely eliminated if no one in your family was ever diagnosed. And it doesn’t mean that you only look at your mother’s side of the family and not your father’s side. Either side with the genes can put you at risk.
A family history is only one of the risk factors of breast cancer, so if you score zero on this risk yet score highly on other risk factors such as lack of exercise and consumption of alcohol, your overall risk of breast cancer increases. On the other hand, just because someone in your family has been diagnosed with cancer, does not necessarily mean that you will be too. The gene mutations responsible for breast cancer are sometimes passed down to future generations, but not always.
Myth 5: Just because you’ve had a mastectomy means you are now safe
We have Angelina Jolie to thank for this one. After discovering that she had an 87% risk of contracting breast cancer, the actress opted for a double mastectomy to slash that risk. But that doesn’t mean that you go the same route: it is highly possible that you may get breast cancer at the site of the scar. If you opt for a mastectomy after a positive diagnosis, it may be possible that your cancer may have spread to the other breast. We admit that the risk is reduced by up to 90% - but it is not completely eliminated.
Myth 6: A clear mammogram means you have nothing to worry about
Mammograms play a very important part in screening and diagnosis of breast cancer, but the truth is that they fail to detect up to 20% of tumors. This means that you should always supplement a negative mammogram result with clinical breast exams just to be sure.
Myth 7: Caffeine increases your risk
Research has not yet discovered any causal link between consumption of caffeine and getting breast cancer. Good news though, preliminary research has shown that caffeine can actually lower your risk.
Myth 8: If you are at risk, there is little else you can do but wait for the signs to appear
It’s not such a sorry state of affairs or a doomsday scenario. If you score highly on one or more risk factors, this does not mean that there is nothing you can do to prevent getting breast cancer. In fact, you can do quite a lot to reduce your risk, such as quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, reducing weight and getting more exercise. Regular breast examinations and other proactive steps such as clinical exams and mammograms won’t hurt either.
Myth 9: Miscarriages and abortions increase your risk
This myth stems from the fact that abortions and miscarriages disrupt hormone levels, which in turn are linked to breast cancer. Various studies have attempted to investigate whether there is indeed a link between miscarriages and abortions and breast cancer risks, but no conclusive evidence has yet been found.
Myth 10: Any and every breast lump means breast cancer
Lumps on the breast can mean several things, only one of which is breast cancer. In fact, over 80% of breast lumps are caused by cysts. Menstrual cycles too bring certain changes in how your breasts feel. For effective breast cancer prevention, we strongly encourage you to report any changes in the appearance of your breast to your doctor, who can advise you properly on what these changes actually mean, and what you can do about them.
Remember, being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence. Like all forms of cancer, breast cancer too is treatable and many women have lived long and healthy lives after being diagnosed. So, remember to be vigilant about changes in your breast, keep your oncologist in the loop about actual and suspected breast cancer symptoms, learn about the various breast cancer stages and signs of breast cancer, and don’t stop being the awesome person that you are.