Top breast cancer myths debunked

It’s the top cancer affecting women worldwide, yet there are still common misconceptions about the causes and detection of breast cancer. From deodorant to underwire bras and radiation, we debunk some prevalent myths.

It’s a disease that affects about 1 in 8 women during their lifetime, and in Canada, it is the third leading cause of death after heart disease and lung cancer. Yet new studies and medical advice reported in the media are often confusing or contradictory. Here some common misconceptions about the causes and detection of breast cancer from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF).

MYTH: Antiperspirants or deodorants cause breast cancer 

FACT: Several studies have looked into a link between antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer, and there is still no conclusive evidence that using these products increases risk. However, since some deodorants contain aluminum, avoid wearing it when you go for a mammogram since it could lead to an inaccurate screening result by making cancers and other abnormalities more difficult to detect.

MYTH: Abortion and miscarriage cause breast cancer

FACT: Studies have shown no association between breast cancer and spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or induced abortion. These findings are supported by reputable organizations such as the National Cancer Institute (U.S.), Society of Gynecologic Oncologists of Canada and the World Health Organization.

MYTH: Breast implants cause breast cancer 

FACT: Research has shown that having cosmetic breast implants does not increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Implants do, however, make it harder to see breast tissue and abnormalities on mammogram images. Women with breast implants should continue to have regular mammograms, experts say, but they should make sure to alert the screening facility about having implants when booking the appointment. A technique called implant displacement views can be used to more effectively screen women who have implants.

MYTH: Wearing an underwire bra causes breast cancer

FACT: Despite a common misconception, wearing an underwire bra — or any other kind of bra — does not raise your risk of breast cancer, researchers say.

MYTH: Bruising the breast causes breast cancer

FACT: Similarly, science has not shown that bumping or bruising your breast increases risk of breast cancer.

MYTH: Cell phone use causes breast cancer 

FACT: At this time, there is no clear link between cell phone use and increased risk of breast cancer. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer said that radiofrequency fields, such as those from cell phones, might cause cancer — but more research is needed before this is confirmed. If you’re concerned about cell phone use and a potential association with cancer, experts say to take basic precautions such as using a headset instead of holding the phone next to your ear, not carrying your phone next to your skin (e.g. an armband or your bra), and consider texting instead of talking.

MYTH: Radiation by mammography causes breast cancer

FACT: Research suggests the risk of harm from radiation exposure by mammography is extremely low. In fact, experts say that radiation would need to be delivered to the breast tissue at 100-1000 times higher than the amount used for modern mammography in order to have a statistical increase in breast cancer risk.

MYTH: Thermography is an effective screening tool for breast cancer

FACT: Experts say that thermography is not an effective way of detecting breast cancer. To date, there are no credible studies suggesting that the imaging process can detect breast cancer earlier or indicate a person’s risk of developing the disease. As such, thermography is not recommended by any leading cancer organization or medical authority as a substitute for regular screening mammograms.

MYTH: Men don’t get breast cancer 

FACT: Men can develop breast cancer, but their risk is very low, with less than 1 per cent of all breast cancer cases in Canada occurring in men. Still, many experts are calling for more awareness for male breast cancer, since it is often stigmatized and misdiagnosed, or diagnosed at a later stage.

Be ‘breast aware’

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone — women and men alike — to practice what the organization calls being ‘breast aware’. This means checking for any unusual changes on a regular basis — and if you do find a persistent lump or other changes in breast tissue, consult your doctor immediately. Try not to panic, however; medical experts say that 8 out of 10 breast lumps turn out to benign, and that sometimes people avoid seeking medical care because they fear what they might find.

Earlier detection of breast cancer, along with regular mammograms, advances in screening technology and improved treatments, have led to a 40 per cent decrease in breast cancer mortality rates in Canada since the peak in 1986, according to the CBCF.

Sources: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation; World Health Organization; National Cancer Institute; Mayo Clinic

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Chris Rogers


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