If every month had a color theme, October’s would be pink because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month! Chances are you know someone who has battled breast cancer and even more likely than that, you’ve probably heard a few myths about what causes breast cancer. Underwire bras, antiperspirants, radiation? Keep reading to get the breast cancer facts you need and debunk all of those crazy myths!
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Just as Life Alert debunks the myth that seniors can’t live independently in their own home, Everyday Health has decided that a little myth-busting is in order too regarding the female health. Keep reading so you can get your breast cancer facts straight!
Myth No. 1: Underwire Bras Cause Breast Cancer
“That’s absolutely untrue,” says breast surgical oncologist Kandace McGuire, MD, of the Breast Cancer Program of Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa. Dr. McGuire explains that this myth is based on an old theory that an underwire bra would reduce lymphatic drainage and increase breast cancer risk. “It was not based on any data whatsoever,” she says. Until now. A study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in September 2014 is the first to use a rigorous scientific study designed to investigate whether bra-wearing habits could affect breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Among the factors researchers considered were bra type (including underwire) and daily or lifetime use of bras. Their conclusion: There’s no evidence linking bras to breast cancer risk. So rest assured that constriction of your breasts, whether from an underwire bra or any kind of compression garment, does not affect your breast cancer risk.
Myth No. 2: Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer
“There have been no studies to suggest a link between antiperspirants and breast cancer,” says McGuire. There are two possible points of origin for this cancer myth:
- Parabens. These chemical preservatives are used in some antiperspirants and some other products. They may increase estrogen levels, which is linked to breast cancer risk. But there is “no decisive link,” says McGuire. Check ingredient labels if you are concerned. Look for the ingredients methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben. However, most brands no longer include these ingredients.
- Mammogram preparation. Antiperspirants contain some aluminum, which may show up on mammograms as a false-positive result. “One thing that is important for women to know is that when they go for their mammograms, they shouldn’t wear antiperspirants,” advises McGuire.
However, the aluminum in Antiperspirants may prevent underarm sweating, thus reversing toxins that would normally be released through the skin to go back into the body tissue. More studies need to be performed on whether these toxins could be a catalyst to breast tumors.
Overall, the National Cancer Institute does not advise limiting the use of antiperspirants, but does say more research is needed in this area.
Myth No. 3: Radiation From Screening Tests Causes Cancer
Although mammograms do give off a small amount of radiation, “the radiation dose in a mammogram is less than in a standard chest X-ray,” says McGuire. “It is such a low level that it wouldn’t increase breast cancer risk.” Women should also know that MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) and ultrasounds, which may also be used to screen for breast cancer in some women, contain no radiation at all.
Myth No. 4: Exposure to Air Causes Cancer to Spread
McGuire shares a myth she often hears from worried patients — cutting into a cancer and exposing it to air causes the cancer to spread. “That is untrue as well,” she stresses. Patients are naturally worried because cancer does have the potential to spread (called metastasis), but it is not caused by your cancer surgeon cutting into a tumor for a biopsy or to remove it.
Myth No. 5: You Have to Have a Family History to Get Cancer
“Women who don’t have a family history of breast cancer are surprised when they get breast cancer,” says McGuire. Family history is a well-established risk factor — so well-established that some women may believe it is the only risk factor, but it’s not. “Less than 10 percent of breast cancer patients get it because of a familial history,” she explains.
Myth No. 6: There’s Nothing You Can Do About an Inherited Risk
A strong family history is a cancer risk factor, but just because women in your family have had breast cancer does not mean you are destined to get it. Genetic testing will help you understand your inherited risk and allow you to make choices about your future care. Additionally, McGuire says that research shows that a low-fat diet combined with physical activity and moderate alcohol consumption (fewer than two drinks per day) reduces breast cancer risk. “If you have a family history, you should do everything that you can to decrease your risk,” she advises.
Myth No. 7: Breast Cancer Occurs Only in Older Women
“Increasing age is a risk factor for breast cancer, so the older you are the more likely you are to get breast cancer,” says McGuire. However, that doesn’t mean younger women aren’t vulnerable. Breast cancer can be diagnosed at any age. “It tends to be more aggressive in younger women,” she adds.
Myth No. 8: Plastic Surgery Causes Breast Cancer
The good news for women who want to enhance or reduce their bust size is that there is no link between breast plastic surgery and increased breast cancer risk. Implants can make mammograms more difficult, but they do not make cancer more likely. Women who have breast reduction surgery may actually see a decrease in breast cancer risk. “Getting a breast reduction can reduce your risk of breast cancer by about 60 percent, depending on how much they take,” says McGuire.
Myth No. 9: Double Mastectomy Prevents a Return of Breast Cancer
Removing a breast that has not had breast cancer does prevent breast cancer in that breast, but removing a breast that already has cancer still leaves you with a 3 to 4 percent risk of recurrence. “Your survival is based on the first cancer,” says McGuire, not on the removal of additional breast tissue.
Myth No. 10: Mammograms Aren’t Accurate Anyway, So Why Bother?
Recent controversy about the right time for women to begin having mammograms — whether they should begin at age 40 or age 50 — has left some women feeling the screening test may not be worthwhile. Younger women often have denser breast tissue than older women, who have more fat tissue in the breast. “The denser your breasts are, the less accurate your mammogram is going to be,” acknowledges McGuire, but adds, “Having a bad mammogram is better than having none. It’s the only thing that we’ve shown thus far to reduce the mortality from breast cancer.”
Myth No. 11: Self-Exams Aren’t Necessary
Actually, the research is inconclusive on this question. “Most of the women that I talk to in the office are not doing self-exams. But there’s no downside — it’s cheap and easy to do,” says McGuire, who says that only good things can come from being familiar with the shape of your own breasts.
Myth No. 12: Abortion and Miscarriage Increase Breast Cancer Risk
While there is some evidence that having children before the age of 30 can reduce the risk of breast cancer, there is no research to support the idea that the early end of a pregnancy through miscarriage or abortion could increase breast cancer risk.
Now, armed with the facts and not the myths, you will be better prepared and able to reduce your risks of developing breast cancer. Plus, in the spirit of Breast Cancer Awareness month, spread the word and help others debunk these myths too! It is important to get the facts when it comes to your health and safety, which is why, when it comes to personal protection, Life Alert Protection is the best and most honest emergency medical device you’ll find in the industry; just ask any of their hundreds of thousands happy customers! Simply slip their medical alert pendant around your neck or wrist and in the event of a life threatening emergency, push the button on your pendant and summon an emergency medical response fast. All those breast cancer myths may have your head swirling, but not to worry, Life Alert’s 24/7 dispatch team is available to send you the help you need fast. Pink may be something you wear in October, but Life Alert is what you wear year-round for the best personal protection 24/7! For a free brochure about all of Life Alert’s lifesaving services, call 1-800-513-2934.
- Vann, Madeline. “12 Breast Cancer Myths Debunked.” Everyday Health. 5 September 2014.