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Breast Cancer Myths

Pink Ribbon - Breast Reconstruction - Breast Cancer


  • Myth #1:  Risk factors are mostly to blame

A lot of misconceptions are out there in regards to breast cancer, including the statement:  “hereditary is the cause of most breast cancers”. Actually, only 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with breast cancers have a family history.

More than two-thirds of women with breast cancer have no known risk factors.

There is a strong genetic factor however. Women with certain mutations within the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a 60 to 80-percent chance of developing breast cancer. Fortunately, this mutation is rare.

Obesity and alcohol are two other known risk factors, behind about 20 percent of breast cancers. Obesity nearly triples the risk of breast cancer, according to the Women's Health Initiative study of 85,917 postmenopausal women. And consuming four alcoholic drinks a day raises the risk by 1.5 times, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The facts are that most women; who develop breast cancer, are leading relatively healthy lives.



  • Myth #2:  One in eight women will get it this year

This statement of one in eight women will be diagnosed with cancer this year tends to be not completely true. This "one in eight" number tends to get tossed around when referring to the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. 

The statistics mean - one in eight of women by the time they're 85 will have had breast cancer; however a woman in her thirties only has a one in 233 risk of getting the disease.
Fewer than 200,000 women will be diagnosed this year. With approximately 150 million women in America, that translates to about one in 750 women.

According to the American Cancer Society – breast cancer survival rates are quite good these days. The lifetime risk of dying from breast cancer for women is about one in 35, or 3 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.  


  • Myth #3:  Breast cancer is preventable

Although it is possible to identify risk factors; like family history and inherited gene mutations; lifestyle changes can lower your risks.  Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption, losing weight, exercise, stop smoking and getting regular breast screenings can help tremendously. 
70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors, meaning that the disease occurs largely by chance and according to unexplained factors. It is very important to get regular breast exams and mammograms and always consult with your doctor whenever you notice any changes in your breasts. When identified and caught early enough, breast cancer is treatable and very often beatable.

The statement that breast cancer can be prevented – especially by eating a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, is debatable.

The cause of breast cancer remains unknown and is not completely preventable. The real key to surviving breast cancer is early detection and treatment. A drug classified as an anti-estrogen called, Tamoxifen may decrease breast cancer risk in certain women. 



  •  Myth #4:  Mammography is 100% accurate in early breast cancer detection

Mammograms are considered the “gold standard” for breast cancer detection. However, they are not 100% at detecting breast cancer.

Mammograms are about 80% effective at detecting breast cancer when all age groups are considered. 

Individual characteristics such as the following are considered when determining the accuracy of mammography:

  • Age

  • Breast density

  • Menopausal status


  • Myth #5:  Mammograms can spread breast cancer, or even cause it

The amount of radiation is so low that there is no doubt that mammograms are safe. There is a standard for safety established for mammograms by the American College of Radiology, and is mandated by Congress.



  • Myth #6:  Abortions cause breast cancer

A persistent myth is one that abortions can cause breast cancer. This topic is based on real science studies of rats in the 1980s indicating a possible correlation between hormones and breast tissue growth. But the issue was thoroughly resolved by the 1990's.



  • Myth #7:  Only women get breast cancer

This statement is definitely a myth. Men can also get breast cancer. In men, breast cancer can happen at any age, but is most common in men who are between 60 and 70 years old. Male breast cancer is not very common. For every 100 cases of breast cancer, less than 1 is in men. 

Approximately, 1,990 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, according to the American Cancer Society, and with 450 who died from the disease.

For men, signs of breast cancer and treatment are almost the same as for women.



  • Myth #8:  Small-breasted women cannot get breast cancer

A woman’s amount of breast tissue does not affect her risk of developing breast cancer. Breast size is not a significant risk factor for breast cancer.   


  • Myth #9:  Drinking coffee increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer

Coffee does not cause breast cancer. There have been several studies with rats showing how coffee can actually prevent cancer. 
There have been health care professionals who believed that caffeine can cause a fibrocystic change (a common non-cancerous breast condition which consists of cysts, lumpiness, tenderness and pain). Some women find that reducing their caffeine intake by avoiding coffee, chocolate, tea and soft drinks can actually help decrease water retention and breast discomfort. 
This topic is a controversial one among health care professionals, since studies linking breast pain and caffeine have been conflicting.



  • Myth #10:  Breast cancer always presents itself in a form of a lump

Eight out of ten breast lumps are benign or roughly 80 percent of all lumps are non-cancerous.  However, it is in your best interest to have all lumps checked out by a physician to make sure the lump is not cancerous.
However, a breast lump can most certainly be a sign of breast cancer. A breast lump can also be a number of non-cancerous conditions.  Not all women who are diagnosed with breast cancer will have symptoms of a lump. Any of the below changes should be followed up with your physician. 
Having any of the symptoms does not mean that a woman has breast cancer.
Breast cancer can be present without any symptoms.


The following should be checked for during monthly self exams:

  • Any new lump in the breast or axilla area (armpit area)

  • Any lump or thickening that never shrinks down after your period

  • Any change in size – shape – or symmetry of your breast

  • Thickening or swelling of the breast

  • Any dimpling – puckering – irritation or indentation in the breast or nipple area

  • Discharge from the nipple area (other than breast milk)

  • Nipple tenderness or pain

  • Nipple retraction

  • Any breast change


Women with a rare type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) rarely have a breast lump. Symptoms of IBC include swelling, redness, itchiness, or warmth in the breast; tenderness or pain; a change in the nipple, such as retraction; skin that appears thick and pitted like an orange peel or with ridges and small bumps; an area of the breast that looks bruised; or swollen lymph nodes under the arm.

Doctors encourage women to report any changes that they notice in their breasts



  • Myth #11:  If a breast lump is painful, than it isn’t cancer

Ten percent of breast cancers are associated with pain. This is however; very rare if this is the only symptom of a breast tumor. Breast pain is the third most common non-cancerous breast complaint and can be caused by many conditions. Bilateral breast pain is less likely to be associated with breast cancer than unilateral breast pain.

In general, breast cancers are painless, but pain alone cannot rule out cancer. Some women also believe that a painless lump must not be cancer. This is as well, not true. There's no correlation between whether the lump is painful and whether it's cancerous. Any lump should be checked by a doctor.  

  • Myth #12:  Wearing an under-wire bra increases your risk of getting breast cancer

There are claims that a under-wire bra compress’ the lymphatic system of the breast. This in turn causes toxins to accumulate and cause breast cancer. This is most definitely a myth. 
The tightness of your underwear or other clothing has no connection to breast cancer risk.



  • Myth#13:  Breast implants can raise your cancer risk

Women with breast implants are at no greater risk of breast cancer, according to studies and research. Standard mammograms don't always work as well on women who have breast implants.  Additional X-rays including tests such as Sonocine, ultrasound and digital mammograms are needed to fully examine all the breast tissue.   

  • Myth #14:  Wearing antiperspirant increases your risk of getting breast cancer

The American Cancer Society has stated that this topic needs more research.
There have only been a small number of studies looking at the link between deodorant use and breast cancer. Research in this area was driven by concerns that chemicals found in deodorants might enter the skin in the underarm and cause changes in the cells of the breast that could lead to cancer. However, the evidence to date does not support a link between the two. Although a link between deodorant and breast cancer appears unlikely, there are too few studies in this area to say for sure.



  • Myth #15:  Breastfeeding increases the risk of breast cancer

According to the breast cancer source – Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the opposite is true. Breastfeeding may decrease the risk of peri-menopausal breast cancer.


  • Myth #16:  I am a cancer survivor for five years, so my cancer will not return

Breast cancer can recur at any time; however, it is more likely for a recurrence within the first five to ten years. 

  • 75 percent of women who will get a recurrence within the first six years

  • 25 percent of women recur in the 10 years after that

  • Hormone therapies such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors may delay any recurrence



  • Myth #17:  Breast cancer only happens in older women

While the risk of breast cancer increases with age, all women are at risk for getting breast cancer.  This is why women of all ages need to perform a monthly breast self exam.



  • Myth #18:  A mastectomy is the only treatment for breast cancer

There are several treatments for breast cancer including chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Mastectomy is not the only option.



  • Myth #19:  Birth control pills cause cancer

Birth control pills do contain small amounts of estrogen, however the amount is so small - it is not even a factor in breast cancer development. If you have any concerns about the use of oral contraceptives and breast cancer, please talk to your physician.



  • Myth #20:  Your father's family history of breast cancer doesn't affect your risk as much as your mother's

Your father's family history of breast cancer is just as important as your mother's in understanding your risk. But to find out about the risk stemming from your father's side of the family, you need to look primarily at the women; while men do get breast cancer, women are more vulnerable to it. Associated cancers in men (such as early-onset prostate or colon cancer) on either side are also important to factor in when doing a full family-tree risk assessment.




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