Although there is plenty of awareness of breast cancer, it is pretty mind-boggling that some breast cancer fictions continue despite a paucity of evidence associated with them. The trouble is that when people believe in these myths, the confusion about risk factors also prevail. This can result in unnecessary worry and can even interfere with prevention and therapeutic decisions.
Let us untangle the facts from the misconceptions by busting the most common unscientific myths persisting about breast cancer.
Myth #1: Detecting a lump in the breast means breast cancer
A lump on the breast does not always equate to breast cancer. Due to fluctuating levels of the hormone (specifically during breastfeeding and menstruation), the breast tissue undergoes alteration. Most of the breast lumps do not turn into cancer. Cysts/lumps can be non-cancerous. Notably, 80% of the lumps are due to other causes.
Consult a specialist doctor if the lumps feel harder or different from the rest of the breast or changes over time.
Myth #2: Use of antiperspirants is linked with breast cancer development
There is a rumour that the harmful chemicals in deodorants get absorbed into the lymph nodes. They make their way to the breast cells, thus escalating breast cancer risk. Another false claim is that by ceasing underarm sweating, the antiperspirants prevent the discharge of toxic substances from the underarm lymph nodes, thus raising cancer risk.
But, no scientific evidence is yet available to support it. As per Breastcancer.org, even the strongest antiperspirant cannot completely obstruct all perspiration in the armpit. Most cancer-triggering substances are eliminated by the kidneys and excreted through urine or processed by the liver. Antiperspirants and deodorants are therefore safe to use.
Myth #3: Only women get breast cancer
Both men and women have breast tissue. However, males have much smaller amounts of breast tissue when compared to females. Males can also develop breast cancer, though its incidence is considerably lower in comparison with females. To know the symptoms, causes, and treatment of male breast cancer, read here!
Alteration in male breasts also needs to be examined. There is less awareness among males regarding breast tumours. Breast cancer in men tends to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage, thus causing a significant delay in seeking medical attention.
Myth #4: Wearing a bra triggers breast cancer
The myth of bra causing cancer is prevalent but, it is untrue. It is believed that wearing a very tight bra every night or for a longer duration daily puts stress on the breast. It restricts the flow of lymph fluid out of the breast, leading to the accumulation of toxic substances in the breast tissue. Sweat may also accumulate, thus provoking breast cancer. But, there is no proof to back the claims that underwire bras can raise breast cancer risk. Also, a study by Lu Chen et al. showed no connection between bra wearing and raised risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal females.
Myth #5: Mammograms increase breast cancer risk
It is true that mammograms (X-ray picture of the breast) do involve radiation exposure, but the dose used is very small and within the safe range. Any associated risks are minor when compared to the boons. Mammograms remain the gold standard screening technique for the early detection of breast tumours. The earlier those lumps are caught, the better are survival chances.
Myth #6: Breast tumour is a hereditary disease
A person believing in this myth may think that nothing can be done to prevent cancer of the breast if it is already in their family. However, only 5-10% of breast tumours are hereditary, i.e. they are caused by mutations in certain genes passed from parent to children.
In reality, a majority of people who develop breast cancer have no family history, indicating that certain environmental and lifestyle factors might be involved. Genetic testing can aid you to figure out the inherited risk.
Myth #7: Breast cancer only occurs in older females
It is true that advancing age is a significant risk factor for cancer of the breast. Over time, abnormal changes may occur in the healthy breast cells, eventually turning them into cancerous cells.
But, it is a false claim that breast cancer only affects older women. This cancer can also impact younger females. Therefore, females of all ages must watch out for signs and symptoms of breast tumours and should go for regular breast cancer screening.
Myth #8: Feeling pain in the breast is a symptom of breast tumour
Breast cancers are not always painful. During menstruation, many females witness breast pain or discomfort that usually goes away after menstruation. Mastitis (inflammation of the breast tissue that occurs mostly during breastfeeding) may also cause more sudden and abrupt pain.
So, if you have severe breast pain that persists for a long time and is not linked with the menstrual cycle or breastfeeding, visit a doctor.
Myth #9: All breast cancers are treated in a similar way
Breast cancer is a complex group of different types of tumours. A research team (Molecular Taxonomy of Breast Cancer International Consortium [METABRIC]) classified breast cancer into ten different subtypes.
It is a false claim that all breast tumours are managed in the same way. At the molecular level, tumours respond to therapies differently. Management plans vary widely depending on the patient preferences and characteristics of the tumour. Having a more detailed understanding of tumour subtypes can aid to tailor treatment according to the patient’s needs.
Myth #10 Healthy lifestyle can completely eliminate breast cancer risk
Although healthy lifestyle interventions such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and abstaining from alcohol can help to minimize the risk of breast cancer, they can’t eliminate the risk. This is because most breast cancers are elicited by factors outside of our control.
You should be aware of if any changes occur in your breasts. Symptoms that can indicate breast cancer include a hard lump/mass below the nipple and areola (circular dark-coloured area of skin surrounding the nipple), nipple discharge, nipple pain, colour alteration in the surrounding area, thickening of the breast, alteration in the size or shape of the breast, and redness, scaliness or flakiness in the skin around the breast.
Women of all ages need to get screened for breast tumour formation. It is also crucial to recognize the signs of male breast cancer. Pay attention to any weird alterations in your breasts. Get regular screenings and perform breast self-examinations as they are pivotal ways of checking yourself for signs of breast cancer. If you witness any unusual change in the breast, consult a clinician as early as possible.
It is advised to act wisely, stop stressing over myths and try to find out the facts behind any risk factors to know how to prevent breast cancer and what to do if you are diagnosed with it. While few risk factors for breast cancer are out of our control, understanding our risks will help us make better choices.