Shedding Light on Breast Cancer Myths

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. The average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 13%. There are more than 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. 

While it is important to wear pink and support our loved ones affected by breast cancer, it is even more important to make sure common myths are dispelled.  

MYTH: If I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, I won’t get it. 

FACT: Even if patients do not have a family history of breast cancer, or do not have a known genetic mutation that predisposes them to breast cancer, it does not mean that they will definitely not develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. 

The majority of patients diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history that can account for their disease. Only approximately five to 10% of patients with breast cancer have a known genetic mutation that has predisposed them to develop the disease. When faced with a new diagnosis, doctors previously used family history to determine whether a patient would benefit from genetic testing to potentially diagnose a mutation that could be responsible for their development of cancer. Currently, the American Society of Breast Surgeons recommends that all patients with a new diagnosis of breast cancer be offered genetic counseling and potentially, testing. 

MYTH: If you maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and limit alcohol, you don’t have to worry about breast cancer. 

FACT: While maintenance of a healthy weight, regular exercise, and limiting alcohol are important steps that can be taken to reduce the overall risk of breast cancer, they can not guarantee that a person will not develop cancer. Most breast cancers are “sporadic” and “multifactorial,” meaning that a patient may or may not have a predisposition to developing cancer and may have been exposed to a lifestyle or environmental factor that has caused the malignant transformation of normal cells. 

MYTH: Wearing a bra can cause breast cancer.

FACT: Underwire bras can contain metal, which can lead to concern that they increase the risk of cancer. There is no evidence that any type of bra, with or without an underwire, has any impact on the risk of or development of breast cancer. 

MYTH: Using underarm antiperspirant can cause breast cancer. 

FACT: Because underarm deodorants and antiperspirants are applied in close proximity to the breast and can potentially contain harmful ingredients, there has long been concern regarding their contribution to the development of breast cancer or increase in breast cancer risk. This has been refuted by multiple scientific studies that have failed to prove a link between deodorant/antiperspirant and breast cancer. Aluminum is the ingredient that is most commonly cited as a possible carcinogen, yet it has not been proven to lead to an increased risk of breast cancer in current studies. 

MYTH: Breast cancer always causes a lump you can feel.

FACT: Most women diagnosed with a new breast cancer do not have any palpable findings on their self-breast examination or clinical breast examination. These cancers are most often detected on an annual screening mammogram, even when the woman has had a normal mammogram the year prior. 

A smaller percentage of patients present to their physicians for evaluation after feeling a mass or lump in their breast and are subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer. Some of these patients will have had normal mammography within the past year. These patients typically, but not always, have a more aggressive type of cancer. 

MYTH: All breast cancer is treated pretty much the same way.

FACT: “Tumor biology” (type of cancer cells, types of receptors and proteins present on breast cancer cells), tumor size, clinical stage, and patient factors determine the recommended treatment for breast cancer. There are many “types” of breast cancer, which vary widely with regard to treatment recommendations. No two patients have identical experiences, although there may be similarities in their treatments. Treatment plans can only be formulated once a patient has been evaluated by a breast cancer surgeon and medical oncologist, as well as a radiation oncologist, in many situations. 

Dispelling these myths is essential in making breast cancer awareness important every day of the year. One of the most important choices you can make is to have preventative screenings – be sure to talk with your physician about the best screening schedule for you.

Learn more about protecting your breast health with a mammogram.

Learn About Mammograms