8 misconceptions about breast cancer

Published 23 Oct 2021 • By Courtney Johnson

During Pinktober or Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we wanted to shine a light on this disease that is the most common cancer in women the UK.

What are some of the most common misconceptions about breast cancer? What is true and what is false about this disease?

Read on to learn more!

8 misconceptions about breast cancer

Breast cancer only affects women

False. Though it is rarer, breast cancer still can occur in men. Many people believe that men cannot develop breast cancer because they do not have breasts - however, they do have breast tissue. Male breast cancer accounts for less than 1% of breast cancer cases in the UK and the Breast Cancer Now estimates that 370 men are diagnosed each year. While breast cancer remains relatively rare in men, it is often diagnosed at a more advanced stage because doctors and patients do not typically associate lumps and other changes in the breast tissue to breast cancer.

Breast cancer only affects middle-aged and older women

False. While it is true that being female and advanced in age are among the top risk factors for developing breast cancer, the American Cancer Society found that in 2017, about 4% of invasive breast cancers were diagnosed in American women under age 40 (compared to 23% in women in their 50s and 27% in women aged 60-69). Though 4% may seem low, it isn’t 0%; it means that 1 in 25 cases of breast cancer in the US occurred in women under 40.

>> Read the testimonial from Muriel, diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 <<

If you don't have a family history of breast cancer, you are "safe" from breast cancer

False. Many people think that breast cancer is a hereditary illness. However, statistically only about 10% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of the disease, meaning that other factors such as lifestyle and environment must contribute to their risk, not genetics. 

Unfortunately, doctors still aren’t sure of why one person may develop breast cancer over another. As mentioned above, the most significant risk factors for breast cancer are being female and advancing in age. As we age, our healthy breast cells can develop mutations on their own and become cancer cells. 

If you do have a strong family history of breast cancer, such as one or more first or second-degree relatives affected by the disease, make sure to inform your doctor

Wearing a bra can cause breast cancer 

False. The media and various internet sources have occasionally fuelled the notion that wearing a bra increases the risk of developing breast cancer. 

One of the theories proposed is that wearing a bra, especially a style with an underwire, could hinder the flow of lymph fluid out of the breast, causing the build-up of toxins in the breast tissue. 

However, there is no evidence to back up this claim. A study in 2014 of almost 1,500 women with breast cancer found that there was no link between wearing a bra and the cancer

Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer 

False. Fortunately, this is a myth. Not all lumps or abnormalities in the breast are cancer - in fact, studies estimate that up to 60-80% of all breast lumps are benign

If you do discover a new, persistent lump in your breast or notice any changes in your breast tissue, it is important to consult a doctor for a clinical breast exam. He or she may order further breast imaging scans to determine whether the lump is a cause for worry. 

Using underarm deodorants or antiperspirants cause breast cancer 

False. Over the years, there have been lasting rumours that underarm deodorants or antiperspirants, particularly those containing aluminium or other chemical substances, are absorbed by the lymph nodes and travel to the breast cells, increasing one’s risk for cancer. It was thought that shaving the underarms would make this worse, by creating micro-cuts that would allow the chemicals to enter the bloodstream more easily. Another purported theory is that antiperspirants, which stop underarm sweating, prevent the release of toxins from the lymph nodes, similarly increasing risk of cancer. 

Despite these rumours, there is no conclusive evidence linking the use of deodorants or antiperspirants to the subsequent development of breast cancer. However, a few studies have observed that women who use underarm products containing aluminium are more likely to have higher concentrations of aluminium in their breast tissue. 

All breast cancers are treated basically the same way 

False. Treatment strategies for breast cancer vary greatly based on the cancer’s features and the patient’s needs. There are a number of variables to consider when choosing treatments, including: 

  • The size, stage, and grade of the cancer, in addition to the location (lobules vs. ducts) 
  • If the cancer is known or thought to be linked to a hereditary genetic mutation, like BRCA1 or BRCA2 
  • If the cancer tests positive for progesterone or oestrogen receptors (meaning its growth is stimulated by hormones) 
  • If the cancer tests positive for additional copies of the HER2 gene 
  • The results of tests that can predict the chance of recurrence, like MammaPrint® or OncotypeDX® 
  • The patient’s preferences about the timing of treatment sessions or avoiding certain side effects 

When your treatment ends, you’re finished with breast cancer 

Many people experiencing breast cancer feel pressure from family, friends, or even society to be ready to “move on” or “go back to normal” after their treatment ends. However, certain treatment options such as targeted therapies or hormonal therapies may be prescribed for up to 10 years post-chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. Plus, if a woman decides to undergo a breast reconstruction, she may have several surgeries over a several-month-long period. And for patients with stage IV or metastatic breast cancer, treatment will continue for the rest of their lives. 

Even when the principal treatment is finished, some people can keep experiencing side effects. Depending on the treatment, some of these side effects may be physical: fatigue, neuropathy (tingling or numbness in the extremities), skin changes, tightness and pain, menopausal symptoms, and others. Other side effects may be mental or emotional in nature: depression, anxiety or fear of recurrence, relationship issues, etc.  

For many people, these effects of breast cancer may endure for years – or even a lifetime in the caste of metastatic breast cancer – but unfortunately, their loved ones just don’t understand. 

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1 comment

on 24/10/2021

Breast cancer for me has changed my life completely, I hate looking at myself in the mirror it has made my mental health get worse I already suffered with PTSD low moods depression but since being diagnosed with breast cancer I have anxiety on top ,I cant wear lovely clothes anymore and feel like a normal woman I do have a false boob to put into my bra but I hate it because it feels different and it's not me ,I had a full mastectomy and 6 whole weeks of radiotherapy, I did get to ring the bell at the end of treatment, but as soon as my treatment finished I felt alone I didnt have that feeling of being helped I am on anastrazole, I was put on letrazole but that made me feel very uncomfortable and more pain in my joints I already suffered with osteoporosis arthritis so they changed my cancer meds to anastrozole, I still have really bad hot flushes, but it is helping with my cancer I have been clear for 3yrs  but I still have  a  way to go I still have mammograms, and I still see my oncologist, I now have been diagnosed with lymphoedema and emphysema, I have angina ,hypertension, and I have dizzy spells, I also am deaf in both ears,glaucoma to I try to stay positive but the fear is still there I dont wear a bra because I hate it and I just dont bother it really does worry me it of it comming back ,I see lots of different specialists and recently  I had a really bad traumatic fall I fell on the side of my lymphoedema arm so I havent been able to wear my sleeve and glove, I am seeing a othapedic specialist for my fractured humorous, and I am having physio, my fracture is healing but now i have a lot of pain in my arms ,and now i am having to go back to see my lymphoedema nurse to measure my arm to see if i need a bigger sleeve and glove, as i dont know what damage it has done to my lymphoedema, as not being able to wear support on my lymphoedema it is caused my arm to ache more I still been told not to lift anything in case it makes things worse, I now have to see about my hearing as my deafness as got worse I just hope and pray that my cancer doesnt return because of my fall Tigger 

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