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The Truth Behind 10 Breast Cancer Myths

Chances are you know someone who has had breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer accounts for about 30% of all new cancers yearly in the United States. 

As common as breast cancer is, there are a lot of common ideas about breast cancer and breast cancer screening which are not true. 

“Even though we continue to learn about breast cancer through scientific research, studies and clinical trials, there is still a lot of misinformation on the internet,” said Kelly Rosso, MD, a surgical oncologist with Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center at Banner Del Webb Medical Center. “The good news is that you can access excellent and accurate information through reliable sources like Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.”

Breast cancer facts and fiction

To clear up some false beliefs about breast cancer, Dr. Rosso helps debunk 10 of the most common myths about breast cancer and shares ways to take charge of your health. 

Myth #1: A family history of breast cancer increases your risk

Truth: Although family history can affect your breast cancer risk, many factors contribute to breast cancer, so it’s not solely about your genes. In fact, many people diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of breast cancer. 

Other risk factors include your age, early menstruation (starting your period), no pregnancies or pregnancies after the age of 30, obesity, dense breasts and genetic mutations. If you are concerned, visit your health care provider or a genetic counselor to assess your risk. 

“People with a strong family history of breast cancer diagnosed at a premenopausal age and present through many generations should consider genetic testing,” Dr. Rosso said. “Having the BRCA1 gene mutation or other gene mutations can increase your risk, but many risk reduction strategies are available today.”

Myth #2: Only older women get breast cancer

Truth: “Breast cancer can be found in people of all ages,” Dr. Rosso said. 

While the risk increases with age, it’s important to be aware of your body, potential risks and any changes you might experience. Performing regular breast exams and getting mammograms and checkups are essential as well. 

Clinical breast exams, where your provider checks your breasts, should be given every one to three years starting at age 25. Mammograms are recommended yearly, starting as early as age 40. However, there are some exceptions, so talk to your provider.

“According to guidelines from the American College of Radiology, all women, especially African American and Ashkenazi Jewish women who are considered high risk, should have a risk assessment by age 25 to determine if they should start more frequent breast cancer screenings earlier than age 40,” Dr. Rosso noted.

Myth #3: Wearing deodorant and underwire bras cause breast cancer

Truth: There’s no evidence that using aluminum-containing antiperspirant or wearing underwire bras increases your risk of – much less causes – breast cancer. 

“I tell patients to wear what is comfortable,” Dr. Rosso said. “If underwire bras feel more comfortable, go for it. If you feel uncomfortable wearing certain antiperspirants, there are many good aluminum- and paraben-free alternatives out there today.” 

Myth #4: You can’t breastfeed after having breast cancer

Truth: A previous diagnosis of breast cancer alone doesn’t impact your ability to breastfeed. However, certain cancer treatments may make it more difficult. Discuss your options with your provider to make the best choice for you and your baby. 

Myth #5: Breast implants cause breast cancer

Truth: Breast implants do not cause cancer, but women with implants can still get breast cancer. You may consider getting a mammogram before and within one year of getting implants as a baseline for future tests.  

[Also read “What You Should Know About Breast Implants and Mammograms”]

While implants don’t cause breast cancer, studies have uncovered a possible link between implants and a rare immune system cancer called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).

“BIA-ALCL usually presents as a mass and a fluid around the implant and is diagnosed with a biopsy,” Dr. Rosso said. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a list of concerning breast implant types that are no longer used.”

Myth #6: If you have a mastectomy, you don’t have to worry about breast cancer

Truth: “If you underwent a mastectomy for the surgical treatment of breast cancer or as a form of risk reduction in the frame of a gene mutation like BRCA, the risk of developing breast cancer is low but never zero,” Dr. Rosso said.

It’s important to continue follow-up appointments with your oncology team for frequent assessments after completing your treatment. 

Myth #7: All lumps mean breast cancer

Truth: Not all lumps are cancerous. Many breast lumps are benign (not cancerous) and might occur due to hormonal changes, cysts or other causes. If you find a lump, don’t panic but do get it checked out. 

“Most breast cancer is detected at an early stage by a routine screening mammogram, when it is either too small to feel or shows up as calcifications that are not detectable by physical exam alone,” Dr. Rosso said.

Myth #8: Mammograms cause breast cancer

Truth: Mammograms use low doses of radiation, which are safe and vital for detecting breast cancer early. The benefits of early detection far outweigh any potential risks.

Learn about common mammogram myths and tips to ensure your screenings go smoothly.

Myth #9: Men don’t get breast cancer

Truth: Breast cancer can affect anyone. Men have breast tissue, so it is possible for cancer to develop there. However, breast cancer in men is rare, accounting for about 1% of cases.

Myth #10: Breast cancer kills more women than any other disease

Truth: While breast cancer is a serious disease, it’s not the leading cause of death for women. Heart disease and lung cancer claim more lives. However, breast cancer awareness is crucial to catch and treat early. Early detection can make all the difference.

Get your mammogram

Now that we’ve busted some myths, you’re armed with accurate information about breast cancer. Knowledge is power, and by understanding the facts you can take steps to protect your health.

Talk to your health care provider or find a Banner Health specialist near you to discuss when you should begin routine mammograms. You may be advised to start screening sooner if you have a family history of the disease or other risk factors. 

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