8 mistaken beliefs about breast cancer

When we hear of a woman who has been diagnosed with cancer, most of us tend to assume it is breast cancer.  Part of this is the fact breast cancer gets a lot of media exposure compared to other forms of cancer.  But for women in the United States, with the exception of skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women and according to BreastCancer.org, for 2017 it is estimated that about 30% of cancers diagnosed in women will be breast cancer.

With the tons of information online regarding breast cancer, there is a good likelihood that many women have heard many myths associated with this disease.  In order to know what is true and what is false, dispelling these myths can better enable a woman with the facts she needs know to help her better able to reduce her risk and to plan treatment if she were to get a breast cancer diagnosis.

Here are some common mistaken beliefs that have circulated over time that women no longer need to accept as the truth:

1. Myth - Almost all breast lumps are cancerous

Truth – The vast majority of lumps found in women’s breast (about 80%) turn out not to be cancerous.  Most lumps are caused by benign (noncancerous) changes, cysts, or other conditions.  But a woman should not ignore any lump or change in her breast tissue she discovers.  It is very important for her to see a physician for a clinical breast exam with possible breast imaging to determine if the lump is of concern or not.  A doctor may recommend a mammogram, ultrasound, or biopsy to help determine whether a lump is cancerous.

2. Myth- Underwire bras cause breast cancer

Truth – This misconception is based on an old theory that an underwire bra would reduce lymphatic drainage causing toxins to accumulate leading to breast cancer.  This notion has been widely debunked as unscientific with the consensus being it doesn’t matter the type of bra a woman wears or the tightness of her clothing of having any connection to breast cancer risk.

3.  Myth – Antiperspirants cause breast cancer

Truth – What most likely started this rumor was the fact that some antiperspirants use a chemical preservative called parabens which may increase estrogen levels which is linked to breast cancer risk.  But there is no research supporting this notion and the American Cancer Society also debunks this myth.  If paraben is of a concern to a woman, she should check the ingredient label looking for ingredients such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben.  The majority of most antiperspirants no longer contain these substances.

Women who have a mammogram will be told not to wear an antiperspirant as they can      contain aluminum which may show up on the mammogram as a false-positive result.  The National Cancer Institute does not advise limiting the use of antiperspirants but does say more research is needed in this area. 

4. Myth – Women with small breasts have a reduced risk of getting breast cancer

Truth – Breast size does not affect a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer.  It is true however, that it can be harder to examine larger breasts than smaller breasts either with a clinical breast exam or through a mammogram.  But regardless of breast size, all women should commit to regular screenings and checkups.

5. Myth- Exposure to air causes cancer to spread

Truth – Having surgery does not cause breast cancer and it does not cause breast cancer to spread.  It is a natural concern of patients to worry as cancer can have the potential to spread or metastasis but cutting into a tumor where it is exposed to air will not be a cause of a cancer to spread.

6. Myth - Breast implants raise the risk of breast cancer

Truth – There is no greater risk to women with breast implants compared to women without them, according to research.  However, standard mammograms may not always work as well on women with breast implants so additional imaging may sometimes be needed to fully examine breast tissue.

7. Myth – Women with lumpy breasts or fibrocystic breast changes have a higher risk

Truth – At one time is was believe that women with fibrocystic breasts were at a higher risk of breast cancer but this common condition does not increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.  Women with this noncancerous or benign condition often have lumpy breast changes likely due to hormonal changes during a woman’s menstrual cycle that affects breast tissue.  Although fibrocystic breast changes don’t increase a woman’s risk of the disease, have this condition may make it more difficult to feel a new breast lump that doesn’t go away with the next menstrual cycle.

8. Myth – The majority of women who get breast cancer have a family history of it

Truth – This myth would make sense and it is a common misconception women may believe to be one of the main risk factors.  However, while women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group (particularly if their mother, sister or daughter develops the disease), most women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history.  Statistically, only about 10% of women diagnosed with it have a family history.