Common myths about breast cancer

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Since this is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October is an especially good time for women to get started in habits that promote breast health. Here are some of the most common myths about breast cancer and some suggestions for what women can do to decrease their risk.

Myth: Only women with a family history of breast cancer are at risk.
Reality: Roughly 70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors for the disease.

Myth: Wearing an underwire bra increases your risk of getting breast cance
Reality: Claims that underwire bras compress the lymphatic system of the breast, causing toxins to accumulate and cause breast cancer, have been widely debunked as unscientific.

Myth: Most breast lumps are cancerous.
Reality: Roughly 80% of lumps in women’s breasts are caused by benign (noncancerous) changes, cysts, or other conditions.

Myth: Breast cancer always comes in the form of a lump.
Reality: A lump may indicate breast cancer (or one of many benign breast conditions), but women should also be on the alert for other kinds of changes that may be signs of cancer.

Myth: Breast implants can raise your cancer risk.
Reality: Women with breast implants are at no greater risk of getting breast cancer, according to research.

Myth: Wearing antiperspirant increases your risk of getting breast cancer.
Reality: The American Cancer Society pooh-poohs this rumor, but admits that more research is needed. One small study did stumble on traces of parabens in a tiny sample of breast cancer tumors.

Myth: “It won’t happen to me.”
Reality: According to the American Cancer Society, 226,870 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women in 2012, and an estimated 39,510 breast cancer deaths are expected. The chance of a woman having breast cancer some time during her life is about one in eight. The vast majority of these women will have “no special risk” other than the fact that they are female and are getting older! Therefore, every woman’s risk increases with age.

Myth: “I’m better off not knowing if I have a problem with my breasts.”
Reality: While doing nothing may give some women a false sense of security, advances in early detection and improved treatment of breast cancer now make it a nearly curable condition! The key is in finding it early.

Myth: “I’ll be all set as long as I get my mammogram on schedule.”
Reality: While screening mammography is especially valuable as an early detection tool, it is not 100-percent effective, nor is it recommended as a technique to be used by itself. The best protection is a three-step approach that includes:

  • Monthly breast self-examination, beginning at age 20
  • Annual clinical breast exams by a health care professional, beginning at age 40. Women ages 20-39 should have clinical breast exams by a health care professional at least every three years
  • Annual mammograms, beginning at age 40

Myth: “I don’t have time to do breast self-examination, and I wouldn’t be able to find anything even if I did.”
Reality: BSE is simple to learn and takes only 10 minutes per month to do! Women who practice BSE become so familiar with the normal look, feel and shape of their breasts that they often are able to discover problems as soon as they occur. The list of “what to look for” includes:

  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Scaling or ulcerations
  • Puckering or discoloration; Inversion of the nipple
  • A lump, thickening, swelling, or distortion of the size or shape of the breast


The basic rule of thumb is: Check for anything that may be “different” from last month, and seek medical attention if you find something “abnormal.” But don’t panic! Eighty percent of breast lumps are not cancerous!

Myth: “I can’t afford to get a doctor’s exam of the breast or a mammogram.”
Reality: There are programs that pay for these services, in cases where women have little or no private health insurance and meet other eligibility guidelines.

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