12 common breast cancer myths debunked
Don't get worked-up with assumptions. Don't just tick yourself off the risk radar based on these common breast cancer myths
The newsroom is bustling with colleagues working on articles for the Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There’s almost a month to go but this being a sensitive topic, we want to invest enough time, do good research, speak to relevant and qualified authorities to spread awareness on the issue. Of course, there are a myriad awareness walks, runs and events scheduled as October approaches. But are we really that aware of this pressing, painful, cancer?
The statistics of women detected with breast cancer and the number of women who died battling this deadly disease will leave you startled. At a rough estimate, out of every two women diagnosed with breast cancer, one is dying of the disease in India. Disturbing, isn’t it? Now, add to this the many myths surrounding breast cancer; some of these lead to many women mentally taking themselves off the risk radar. The other end of the spectrum sees women getting unnecessarily distressed, assuming they have it.
That is why we spoke to some experts to bust these myths and ensure that you make the right next move, all the time hoping that the big C doesn’t figure in your life.
12 breast cancer myths busted
Breast Cancer Myths #1: Breast cancer is hereditary
If a close relative has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more likely to develop it yourself. In fact, most breast cancers are not inherited. “Not all cases are hereditary, 75-80% breast cancers are sporadic. However, 5-20% may be associated with hereditary syndromes,” says Dr Vikas Goswami, senior consultant-medical oncology and bone marrow transplant, Fortis Cancer Therapy Centre, Noida.
Breast Cancer Myths #2: Breast cancer is age related, specific to women over 40
Breast cancer affects women of all ages. In fact, women in the age group of 25 to 90 years are susceptible to it. “ Women can get breast cancer at any age. Cancers after the age of 55 years tend to be more aggressive or invasive than those below the age of 45 years,” informs Dr Shivani Sachdev-Gour, director of SCI Healthcare, gynecologist and IVF expert, Delhi.
Breast Cancer Myths #3: Just because no one has it in my family, I’m unlikely to get it
“Eighty-five per cent of cases have no family history of breast cancer. It is, however, correct that if there is a family history of breast cancer, then the risk to female members of the family is approximately twice as high,” reveals Dr Sachdev-Gaur.
Breast Cancer Myths #4: Men don’t get breast cancer
Breast cancer is rare but not unknown to men. It shares every similarity with breast cancer in women. “Men can get breast cancer, though the incidence in men is much less than that in women. Male breast cancer accounts for more than 1% of all cancers in men,” Dr Aditi Bhatt, consultant surgical oncology, Fortis Hospitals, Bangalore.
Breast Cancer Myths #5: Underwire bras cause breast cancer
There is no proof to support this claim. It is just one of those common fears with no proof. “This myth was spread by a book called Dressed to Kill. The theories put forward here were that it acts by blocking the lymph flow and releasing toxins from the metal in the underwire. This is highly discredited by scientific evidence,” states Dr Sachdev-Gaur.
Breast Cancer Myths #6: You can’t get breast cancer after a mastectomy
“The chances are less, but it can occur in the other breast or the same one because of some remnant breast tissue after a mastectomy,” explains Dr Bhatt. Removal of breast tissue can reduce the risk on that breast, however, it does not prevent cancer completely as there is some tissue even on the chest wall. “Also, it does not reduce the risk of the disease elsewhere in the body. This is due to micrometastasis of the cancer tissue,” reveals Dr Sachdev-Gaur.
Breast Cancer Myths #7: Breast implants can raise your cancer risk
While there is no proof that such a relation exists, Dr Sachdev-Gaur states, “There are some reports that suggest a small probability of three in a million getting a cancer called ALCL after breast implants, which is more related to the woman’s immune system.” But again, there is no exclusive evidence that links breast implant to cancer.
Breast Cancer Myths #8: Your father’s family history of breast cancer doesn’t affect your risk as much as your mother’s
In fact, Dr Bhatt asserts that if any male member in the family has breast cancer, the risk is more. Women who have one or more male members in the family with breast cancer, should have their risk assessment done by an oncologist. An epidemiological study of breast cancer published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute has shown that both paternal and maternal lines can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer in the child.
Breast Cancer Myths #9: If you’re at risk of breast cancer, there’s little you can do but watch for the signs
There’s way more than playing wait-and-watch depending on the different levels of risk—low, intermediate and high-risk. Depending on the intensity of your risk, different measures can be taken to reduce the chances of getting breast cancer. Some of those measures could be lifestyle modification, surgical or medical risk-reducing therapy.
Breast Cancer Myths #10: Fertility treatments increase the risk of breast cancer
Fertility treatments do not cause breast cancer. There is no strong evidence to prove it. “However, contraceptive pills when used for 10 years or more may increase the risk of cancer,” says Dr Bhatt.
Breast Cancer Myths #11: Removing the entire breast gives you a better chance of surviving cancer than having a lumpectomy with radiation therapy
Both these treatments are oncologically equivalent. The survival rate is the same when either treatment is offered. It depends on the stage and type of tumor, in some cases a lumpectomy plus radiotherapy is more effective than a mastectomy.
Breast Cancer Myths #12: Overweight women have the same breast cancer risk as other women
Overweight women have a higher risk of breast cancer, especially when weight gain has occurred after pregnancy. A study on the effect of weight and weight gain on the risk of breast cancer in over 95,000 women has shown that maintaining the correct weight (in terms of your age, lifestyle and other factors) can be quite important in preventing breast cancer also in post-menopausal women. Of course, being overweight itself is not a risk factor.
With the onset of technology, and 3G leading way to faster Internet on phones, almost everyone is relying on the world wide web for health-related queries and coming to inane findings. Almost everyone is a self-proclaimed doctor, going in for self-diagnosis and conclusions. While reading up is always good, what’s better and safer is to consult a doctor. If you feel you are in the risk zone, we suggest you book an appointment with a qualified doctor at the earliest. Till then, stay safe.
If you have any insights, questions or comments regarding this post on breast cancer myths, please share them in our Comment box below.