Women's Health

The Most Misunderstood Myths about Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancers. It occurs mostly in women, although men can also get it. Getting diagnosed with breast cancer can be both frightening and overwhelming. Many of the known risk factors, such as age and genetics, are simply beyond our control. This is why myths are so attractive. They sell us the notion that there are simple ways in which we can protect ourselves from cancer. However, the reality is that there is no scientific support for this claim. For this reason, breast cancer is one of the most misunderstood diseases with numerous myths and truths. Below are 12 of the most common myths associated with the disease and the truth that separates fact from fiction.

Myth #1: Having a family history of breast cancer increases your chances of developing breast cancer as well.

The truth: 5-10% of breast cancers are associated with genetics or family history. The other 90% are mainly caused due to lifestyle and environmental changes.

  • First degree relative with breast cancer – you should consider getting regular checkups, such as diagnostic breasting imaging, starting 10 years before the age of your relative’s diagnosis.
  • Second degree relative with breast cancer – your risk of developing breast cancer increases slightly, though it is not in the same risk category as those who have a first degree relative with breast cancer.
  • Multiple generations diagnosed with breast cancer – there is a higher chance that there is a breast cancer gene contributing to the cause of your family’s history of the disease.

Myth #2: Discovering a lump in your breast is an indication of breast cancer.

The truth: 10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have no lumps, pain, or other symptoms. In fact, among the lumps that are detected, around 85% are benign. Breast tissue may undergo changes due to hormonal or physiological changes. For example, some women may develop lumps during the first days of their menstrual cycle and soon after, these lumps will disappear on their own. Only a small percentage of lumps actually turn out to be cancerous. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, consult with your doctor about undergoing a clinical breast examination.

  • Breast pain
  • Nipple tenderness or discharge
  • A change in the shape or size of the breast
  • Feeling warm to the touch
  • Red or swollen skin around the breast
  • A lump in or near the breast or in the underarm area

Myth #3: Using antiperspirants or deodorants increases your chances of developing breast cancer.

The truth: There is absolutely no scientific evidence to prove that using antiperspirants or deodorants increases your chances of developing breast cancer. A few antiperspirants and deodorants may cause skin irritation, but overall, these products are safe for use.

Myth #4: Having had a miscarriage or abortion puts you at risk of developing breast cancer.

The truth: There is no scientific evidence to support or prove that having had a miscarriage or abortion puts you at risk of developing breast cancer.

Myth #5: Wearing a bra increases your chances of developing breast cancer.

The truth: There is no scientific or clinical proof to support the claim that wearing a bra increases your chances of developing breast cancer. Neither the type of bra you wear nor the tightness of your underwear has any connection to the risks associated with breast cancer.

Myth #6: Undergoing regular mammograms and X-rays can cause or spread breast cancer. 

The truth: There have been no studies conducted to prove that mammograms or X-rays cause cancer. The benefits of mammography almost always outweigh the potential risks associated with radiation exposure (mammograms require minimal doses of radiation). In fact, such examinations save countless lives by diagnosing breast cancer at its earliest stage.

Myth #7: Performing plastic surgeries on the breasts may cause breast cancer.

The truth: There is no link between breast cancer and plastic surgery. If you undergo breast reduction, there is a decrease in the risk of breast cancer.

Myth #8: Having smaller breasts means you are less at risk of developing breast cancer.

The truth: Breast cancer typically develops in the part of the breast that makes and delivers the milk. Therefore, this disease can occur in any woman, regardless of the size of their breasts. If you are a woman, you are at equal risk as any other individual and it is important that you commit to regular checkups and screenings.

Myth #9: Only women are affected by breast cancer.

The truth: Even though women are at higher risk of developing breast cancer, men can get it as well. In fact, every year approximately 2,190 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer in men typically manifests as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola. It is important for men to check themselves occasionally by performing a breast self-examination and report any unusual changes to their doctors.

Myth #10: Breast cancer occurs only in older women.

The truth: Breast cancer can occur at any age. Although it is true that breast cancer is most common in postmenstrual women, 25% of breast cancer patients are under the ages of 50. For this reason, it is a good idea to perform a breast self-examination at least once a month starting at age 20 or undergo a clinical examination by a doctor every 3 years.

Myth #11: An injury to the breast can cause breast cancer.

The truth: An injury - such as being hit in the chest - will not cause breast cancer. It may be swelling and bruising to the breast, which can be tender or painful to the touch. Sometimes, an injury may lead to a benign (non-cancerous) lump, known as fat necrosis. After such an injury, it is typically recommended to check your breasts for any unusual changes, such as a lump.

Myth #12: Breast cancer is contagious.

The truth: In general, cancer is not a contagious disease. More specifically, breast cancer cannot spread from individual to individual. The only situation in which cancer can spread from one individual to another is in the case of a tissue or organ transplant. While many factors associated with breast cancer cannot be changed, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

Maintain a healthy weight, exercise on a regular basis, and limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Regardless of the importance of breast cancer screening and diagnosis, often times mammograms fail to detect around 10-20% of breast cancers. This is why breast self-examinations are vital elements of the screening process. Knowing the facts about diagnosis, treatment, and prevention can help you reduce any unnecessary anxiety. In turn, you will be able to make more informed decisions.

There are several common myths about breast cancer that can cause worry and make decisions regarding treatment even more difficult. Despite the lack of evidence, these myths still gain a lot of media attention and this tends to cause a great deal of confusion as to what is and what isn’t linked to breast cancer. If you are worried about any breast cancer risks, address your concerns with your doctor. Have him or her take the time to explain the benefits and risks associated with any treatment option you feel is right for you. Believe in the facts rather than blindly believing in the myths.