9 Myths about Breast Cancer Debunked
Knowing the facts about breast cancer is your first step in the fight against this terrible disease. By being properly informed about risk factors, symptoms, and treatment, you’ll be able to properly identify warning signs and take preventative measures to lessen your chances of being diagnosed. While some factors are completely out of our control, like our race, gender, and genetic makeup, it’s important for us to be able to identify the factors that can make a difference in our health.
But with so much information out there from doctors, experts, and even ‘old wives tales’, how do we know what to believe anymore? Here are 9 common misconceptions about breast cancer that we’d like to put to rest.
MYTH: Breast cancer always forms in lumps. Feeling for a lump may be the most common way to detect an issue with your breast, but there are many other warning signs that are not so well known including: skin irritation, swelling, breast or nipple pain, redness, a thickening of the skin around the nipple or breast, and/or a bloody or clear discharge (not breast milk) that appears without squeezing the nipple. If you notice any of these warning signs, make an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible to have them examined.
MYTH: A lump is always cancerous. While lumps can be cancerous, over 80% of them are found to be benign. That being said, any breast lump you find should be examined by a doctor immediately as only they can make the determination of it being non-cancerous. Lumps may be the result of many harmless factors such as cysts, breast-feeding, or scar tissue. Frequent self-breast examinations and medical checkups can help detect any irregularities in the breast which can result in faster diagnosis and treatment.
MYTH: Mammograms cause cancer to spread. Compression during a mammogram is used to cultivate an X-Ray image but it does not spread cancer. And the small amount of radiation you’re exposed to during the exam doesn’t grow or spread the disease either. According to the National Cancer Institute, the benefits of mammograms “nearly always outweigh the potential harm from the radiation exposure” as the “risk of harm from this radiation exposure is extremely low.” Mammograms don’t prevent breast cancer but they can help detect it in its early stages and give you a head start on treatment options.
MYTH: Breast cancer is mostly hereditary. It’s widely accepted that only about 10% of those diagnosed with breast cancer were predisposed to the disease because of their genetics. The majority of cases are developed from many other risk factors. Lifestyle choices such as obesity, lack of physical activity, poor diet, or heavy alcohol consumption, and certain environmental factors such as heavy exposure to radiation can all increase chances for breast cancer. A person with a family history of cancer should be extra cautious in their monitoring for breast cancer. If you have a first degree relative who has had breast cancer, it is recommended to start getting annual screenings 10 years before the age of your relative’s diagnosis.
MYTH: If you're at risk for breast cancer, there's nothing you can do to stop it. There's a LOT you can do to lower your risk. Start an exercise routine, lose weight if you're obese, lower (or better yet, eliminate) your alcohol consumption, do regular and thorough breast self-exams, stop smoking, and schedule regular breast exams and mammograms after the age of 40. We’re not saying that breast cancer is preventable. It’s not. But taking proper care of yourself has been shown to lower the risk.
MYTH: All women have a 1-in-8 chance of getting breast cancer. Actually, this one is technically true...if you’re over 80 years old. Yes, the risk for breast cancer does increase as you get older, but we think this number is a bit misleading. ‘1-in-8’ is acquired by adding up all of the absolute risk percentages throughout your lifetime. For instance, when you are in your 30s, your chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer are about 1 in 225 (0.4%), but when you are in your 70s, that percentage grows to 3.4%. If you add up all of the percentages over your lifetime until the age of 80, you’ll end up with about a 12.3% chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
MYTH: Antiperspirants, bras, hair conditioners, and deodorants cause cancer. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support these claims. Recently, there has been concern that antiperspirants block toxins from being able to leave the body and that bras block the drainage of lymph fluid resulting in a cancerous buildup. Neither of these have been found to be true. The body releases most of its toxins through urine and breakdown cycles in the liver rather than through sweat. Studies have found no difference in those who use these items compared to those who do not with regard to breast cancer.
MYTH: Men are immune to breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 2,600 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in men this year with 440 of them resulting in death. The number of diagnoses in men are about 1% of those for women, but the survival rate for men is much lower at 74%. The reasoning is that breast cancer in men is much more likely to go undetected as men often don’t recognize the symptoms. It is just as essential for men to perform self-examinations and take immediate action to any lumps as it is for women.
MYTH: Women with small breasts have less chance of getting breast cancer. There is absolutely no correlation between the size of your breasts and your risk of getting breast cancer. Larger breasts may be harder to examine than smaller breasts in clinical exams, mammograms, and MRIs, which may have played a factor into this myth, but the rate of cancer diagnosis is the same for women of every cup size.
Hopefully, with all of these myths dispelled, you have a better understanding of what is fact and what is fiction. The facts point out that a healthy lifestyle, filled with exercise and a nutritious diet, along with regular self-examinations and annual checkups at the doctor is best plan of action to help reduce chances of you developing breast cancer.