Breast Cancer Myths and the Facts That Dispute Them
According to the American Cancer Society approximately 1 in 10 women will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer at some point during their life.
Despite it being the second leading cause of death in women, mortality rates have come down over the last 50 years because of regular screening and a range of successful treatments.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease where cells begin to grow uncontrollably, often forming a lump that is easily recognizable in a physical examination.
There are different types of breast cancer, depending on the type of cells in the breast that are affected. One of the most common, invasive ductal carcinoma, relates to cells that grow outside the breast ducts.
Unfortunately, there are several myths about breast cancer that are simply untrue. Here we look at some of the common myths and assumptions and decipher whether or not they have any elements of truth.
MYTH: Breast Cancer is Mostly Hereditary
This notion has developed in part through high profile women in the media having pre-emptive mastectomies because there is a history of breast cancer in their families. The truth is that the majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no known familial connection. Only 5-10% of cases have a genetic connection.
Even if there is a history of breast cancer in the family, that does not mean a particular individual will develop the disease. It does mean, however, that women should look at other risk factors and mitigate these.
MYTH: Breast Cancer Doesn't Develop in Individuals Who Are Fit and Healthy
People who are fit and live very healthy lifestyles can still develop cancer.
Being unfit and eating unhealthily does increase the risk of getting breast cancer and looking after one’s health while maintaining a good body weight increases the odds in the individual’s favor but does not entirely remove all risk.
MYTH: Breast Cancer Can Develop From Wearing a Bra
Many women wear a bra and no link has been found between this and the development of breast cancer. The myth mainly surrounds the assumption that underwire bras block the lymph nodes from draining fluid.
There is no evidence for this and a study in 2014 found that nothing about wearing a bra contributed to developing cancer.
MYTH: Too Much Sugar Can Cause Breast Cancer
Too much sugar in the diet generally leads to weight gain and increases the risk of developing a range of cancers. There has been some research done on mice that suggests more sugar can increase the risk of breast cancer but the evidence is not cut and dried and more work needs to be done.
People should reduce processed sugar in their diet for all sorts of health reasons but the evidence that it specifically causes breast cancer is simply not there at the moment.
MYTH: Yearly Mammograms Guarantee to Discover Breast Cancer Early
As with most screening tools, mammograms are extremely useful and effective but they cannot 100% guarantee that breast cancer will be discovered, if it is indeed present.
For example, there are sometimes false-negative results where the screening gives someone a clean bill of health but the cancer is present.
It’s important to have an annual mammogram but also carry out regular checks of the breasts for lumps and any abnormalities.
MYTH: A Noticeable Lump Is Always a Symptom of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer doesn’t always cause a lump which is why regular screening is important. If a lump is found, however, it doesn’t always mean that a person has the disease. There are also some myths around the size, shape and pain level relating to lumps which have no support from the current evidence.
The key is that if someone feels a change in their breast, including a lump, they should immediately contact their physician to have it checked out.
MYTH: Breast Cancer Is Always Treated in the Same Way
There are many different types of breast cancer and a whole swathe of treatments. Much depends on the stage of cancer, the type, whether the growth of the tumor is affected by hormones and the likelihood of recurrence.
MYTH: Breast Cancer Only Develops in Middle-aged and Older Women
While more people in their later years do develop breast cancer and the risk of the disease increases with age, it can affect anyone, including men. 4% of invasive breast cancers are in women under the age of 40 and 23% under the age of 50.
Women of any age should carry out regular self-checks for abnormalities and changes in their breasts and have an annual mammogram. As with most cancers, early detection plays a very important role when it comes to the successful treatment of breast cancer.
No matter the type of cancer, the earlier it’s diagnosed and treatment begins, the greater the odds of recovery.
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