Breast cancer is the most common cancer after skin cancer as far as women in the US are concerned1 and an estimated 40,450 women will succumb to it in 2016.2These stats prove how crucial it is to keep breast cancer on your radar. Yet, it’s easy to fall into the confusing spiral of information from different sources. To top it off, some of this can be misleading or inaccurate. That’s where we come in. We did some intense fact checking to bring you the truth on the most common breast cancer myths.
1. Men Don’t Get Breast Cancer
Men also have some breast tissue. And like any other tissue in the body, the cells in a man’s breast can become cancerous
False. Contrary to popular belief, men do have some breast tissue. And like any other tissue in the body, the cells in a man’s breast can become cancerous.3In fact, it is estimated that in 2016, around 2,600 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in the US and around 440 men will die because of it. However, it’s also true that breast cancer is rare in men. A man has a lifetime risk of 1 in 1000, approximately 100 times less than a woman.4
So what’s up with this discrepancy? It all comes down to the breast duct cells. In men, they are less developed. Men also typically have lower levels of female hormones. Those hormones are exactly what influences the growth of breast cells. And while a male diagnosis of breast cancer is rare, the outlook for those who get it isn’t often good. Many men tend to ignore or dismiss symptoms of breast cancer, depriving themselves of the advantages of early detection.5
2. Breast Lumps Are The Only Visible Sign Of Breast Cancer
A breast lump isn’t necessarily the only sign of breast cancer. A lump can also form in and around the armpits or the collarbone. Other symptoms include a swollen breast (without a lump) or irritated, dimpled, reddened, or scaly breast skin.
False. It is true that breast cancer often causes a breast lump to form. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, breast cancer spreads to lymph nodes near the collarbone or in the armpit. A lump may form in these locations before the original tumor is big enough to be felt. Other symptoms include a swollen breast (without a lump) or irritated, dimpled breast skin. Pain, nipple discharge, or a retracted nipple can also occur. Scaly, reddened, or thick breast skin can also be indicative of breast cancer.
It’s important to note that these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, too. But if you have any of these symptoms, it’s still a good idea to visit the doctor. It’s the best preventative step you can take for your body.6
3. Diet And Exercise Don’t Affect Your Risk For Breast Cancer
Body weight, physical activity, and diet can all affect your risk of breast cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, and eating a balanced diet high in plant foods can lower your risk.
False. Body weight, physical activity, and diet can all affect your chances of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society has issued the following nutrition and exercise guidelines for staying healthy:
- Maintain a healthy weight for your body type.
- If you are an adult, get at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity or 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Spread it out throughout the week, if possible. This includes cutting down on sedentary behavior like watching television.
- Eat a healthy diet with a focus on plant foods. Consume at least two and a half cups of fruits and vegetables each day. Go for whole grains instead of refined grains. Limit your intake of red meat, processed meat, and alcohol.7
4. Wearing A Bra Gives You Breast Cancer
Wearing a bra does not cause breast cancer.
False. You might have seen chain emails suggesting that your bra could give you breast cancer. According to this myth, wearing a bra can compress the lymphatic system in the breast and cause toxins to accumulate. However, there is no scientific evidence that wearing bras can cause breast cancer. Moreover, the mechanism suggested here is scientifically inaccurate.8
5. Losing A Baby Increases Your Risk Of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer isn’t associated with having an abortion or miscarriage. Delayed conception can up your risk, though.
False. Some studies in the 90s suggested that abortion could increase your risk for breast cancer. These studies, however, had significant design flaws. Subsequent (and more rigorous) research have not shown any association between breast cancer and abortion or miscarriage. Furthermore, in 2009, the Committee on Gynecologic Practice of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated that there is no causal relationship between the two.
There are other associations between birth and breast cancer, though. Your risk is linked to exposure to estrogen and progesterone, two hormones produced by the ovaries. This duo can stimulate the growth of breast cells. Exposure to these two hormones is likely to be higher in women who have their first baby at a later age (or never give birth at all). As a result, breast cancer risk can increase.9
6. Deodorants Can Increase Your Risk For Breast Cancer
There’s no evidence to link deodorants or antiperspirants to breast cancer. Still wary? Make your own natural deodorants to be safe.
False. There’s a good chance that you’ve seen reports linking deodorants and underarm antiperspirants to breast cancer. For starters, it’s true that aluminum-based compounds and parabens – which are found in some deodorants and antiperspirants – can mimic the effects of estrogen. And estrogen can stimulate the growth of breast cells.
However, the National Cancer Institute and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not have any evidence that links these products to the development of breast cancer. Both organizations regulate these products.10But if you are still wary about the possible side effects, limit your use of store-bought deodorants and make your own. Just place some peppermint leaves, rosemary, or lavender in a bottle containing a cup of water and a cup of organic grain or grape alcohol and allow it to infuse for 2 or 3 days.11
7. Breast Self Exams Are All You Need For Detecting Breast Cancer
Self-exams alone won’t help catch breast cancer. Assess your risk for breast cancer and get regular checkups.
False. Regular self-examination of your breast is pegged as the best way of catching breast cancer early. But according to the American Cancer Society, research does not indicate a clear benefit of a physical breast exam done by yourself or a health professional. Instead, the organization recommends regular mammograms for women with average risk of breast cancer over the age of 40. Mammograms are capable of detecting breast cancer at an early stage, decreasing your chances for aggressive treatment.
Don’t know your level of risk? Ask your doctor. He or she may use a risk assessment tool like the Claus or Gail model which takes risks factors like family history, age, and age at first period into account to assess your risk.
Keep in mind that breast cancer screening tests aren’t free of risk. For instance, mammograms expose your breasts to radiation. Talk to your doctor to assess your need for breast cancer screening. Additionally, the American Cancer Society urges women to get to know how their breasts normally feel and look. This way, any changes can be checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.12
8. BRCA1 Or BRCA2 Gene Mutations Means You Will Have Breast Cancer
A BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation doesn’t mean you are sure to get breast cancer. This mutation is one risk factor to consider – it isn’t an automatic diagnosis.
False. Lifestyle factors can make a huge difference. Here’s the breakdown: the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes prevent cancer by producing proteins that inhibit abnormal growth of cells. An inherited mutation in these genes stops those proteins from preventing that abnormal growth. As a result, cancer may develop.
However, it is important to remember that this mutation only increases your risk. It does not automatically yield a diagnosis. On an average, a BRCA1 mutation can mean a lifetime risk for breast cancer of around 55% to 65%, while a BRCA2 mutation can mean a risk of about 45%.13
9. You Can’t Get Breast Cancer If It Doesn’t Run In Your Family
You can get breast cancer even if no one in your family has it. Don’t disregard symptoms just because it doesn’t run in your family.
False. It’s true that a history of breast cancer on either side of the family can mean a higher risk. However, every woman has a chance of developing this disease – regardless of genetics. A woman is at risk for simply being a woman. In fact, 9 out of 10 women who develop breast cancer don’t have a family history. So don’t disregard symptoms just because it doesn’t run in your family.14
10. Breast Implants Increase Your Risk Of Breast Cancer
Breast implants don’t cause breast cancer. They may, however, up your risk of ALCL, a rare cancer of the immune system.
Ever since breast implants have been invented, there have been concerns about their impact on breast cancer risk. And while there is no evidence to support the case, the FDA does have a few warnings.15 They speculate that breast implants may increase your risk for anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) in the breast. ALCL is a rare cancer of the immune system that can develop in many parts of the body; only about three in a one hundred million women in the US are diagnosed with ALCL of the breast each year. Your chances of developing this condition are low, even if you have breast implants. Nevertheless, it’s vital to check with your doctor and understand the risks and complications of breast implants if you’re considering the procedure.16
|↑1||Breast Cancer—Patient Version. National Cancer Institute.|
|↑2||SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Female Breast Cancer. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑3||What is breast cancer in men? American Cancer Society.|
|↑4||What are the key statistics about breast cancer in men? American Cancer Society.|
|↑5||Can breast cancer in men be found early? American Cancer Society.|
|↑6||Signs and symptoms of breast cancer. American Cancer Society.|
|↑7||Summary of the ACS Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity. American Cancer Society.|
|↑8||Bras and Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society.|
|↑9||Reproductive History and Breast Cancer Risk. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑10||Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑11||Gabriel, Julie. Holistic Beauty from the Inside Out: Your Complete Guide to Natural Health, Nutrition, and Skincare. Seven Stories Press, 2013.|
|↑12||American Cancer Society recommendations for early breast cancer detection in women without breast symptoms. American Cancer Society.|
|↑13||What are the risk factors for breast cancer? American Cancer Society.|
|↑14||BreastScreen WA Information for women – Modifiable lifestyle risk factors for breast cancer. Department of Health.|
|↑15||Deapen, Dennis. “Breast implants and breast cancer: a review of incidence, detection, mortality, and survival.” Plastic and reconstructive surgery 120, no. 7 (2007): 70S-80S.|
|↑16||Questions and Answers about Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL). US Department of Health and Human Services.|