6.OCT.2021 4 MIN READ | 4 MIN READ

Get to know facts about breast cancer, so you don’t buy into misinformation out on the Internet! Here's a look at 7 common myths about breast cancer and the truth behind them.

Do deodorants cause breast cancer? Does breast size affect your chances of getting the disease? There’s so much information about breast cancer that many of us may be misinformed, which can lead to consequences such as unnecessary panic, or even seeking treatment too late. Read on as we dispel 7 common myths about breast cancer.

Myth 1: Breast lumps are generally a sign of cancer.

Fact: Most breast lumps are not cancerous.

Amongst women aged 40 and younger, 80 – 85% of breast lumps are not cancerous. However, it is important to still recognise that breast lumps can be cancerous, so that early treatment can be sought if needed. One should look out for warning signs such as:

  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling, redness or scaling of the overlying skin on the breast
  • Inversion of the nipple
  • Lumps in the armpit
  • Lumps that keep growing in size
  • Nipple discharge
  • Swelling in part of the breast

Myth 2: Breast cancer only happens if you have family history of breast cancer.

Fact: You will not necessarily get the disease. However, you are at higher risk of it.

Having family members who have been diagnosed with breast cancer does not mean that you will get it for sure – it means that you have an increased risk. It is also important to note that most women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of breast cancer. If you are concerned, do go to a doctor or a genetic counsellor to assess your risk.

Myth 3: Men do not get breast cancer.

Men can't get breast cancer
Fact:
Breast cancer is rarer in men than in women, but it does happen.

According to Breastcancer.org, less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. As such, there are no recommendations for men to undergo regular breast cancer screening today. However, it is important to note that while men don’t have breasts, they do have breast tissue, which can host cancer cells. Also, men with a strong family history of breast cancer may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. One important factor of genetic inheritance is the BRCA (breast cancer gene) genetic mutation, which increases the risk of developing breast cancer 100-fold. Breast cancer in men also carries poorer prognosis compared to women. If you are concerned, do see your doctor, or a genetic counsellor.

Myth 4: Breast cancer is always painful.

Fact: Pain is not a common finding in most early-stage breast cancers.

Most breast cancers do not commonly cause pain in the breast or nipple. Discomfort in the breast or nipple is commonly the result of factors such as hormonal changes, fibrocystic breast changes, or even a poor-fitting bra. While you shouldn’t be overly alarmed about your breast pain being a sign of cancer, you should monitor your body for other symptoms, or seek a medical professional to clear your doubts.

Myth 5: Wearing a bra can increase the risk of breast cancer.

Fact: It is completely safe to wear a bra.

There have been claims that wearing a bra – especially one with an underwire – can compress the breast’s lymphatic system and restrict the flow of lymph fluid out of the breast, resulting in the accumulation of toxic substances. However, there has been no evidence that supports this claim.

Myth 6: Wearing an antiperspirant or deodorant can cause breast cancer.

Antiperspirant or deodorant causes breast cancer
Fact:
Such personal care products are safe to use daily, and they do not cause cancer.

Some believe that the chemicals – aluminium and parabens – in these personal care products can cause cancer when absorbed through the skin, or through cuts caused by underarm shaving. However, there is no evidence to support this claim. Over the years, various studies have found no link between breast cancer and the use of antiperspirants and deodorants. Generally, antiperspirants do not block all perspiration. Furthermore, most cancer-causing substances are removed by the kidneys, and thereafter, released through urine or processed by the liver.

Myth 7: Breast implants can increase your risk of cancer.

Fact: Breast implants do not cause cancer. Those with breast implants do not have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.

While implants do not cause breast cancer, studies have uncovered a possible link between breast implants and anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a rare cancer of the immune system. Do note that standard mammograms don’t always work as well on those with implants, and additional X-rays are sometimes required to examine the breast tissue.

Early Diagnosis Can Save Your Life

Breast cancer is a highly treatable form of cancer in its early stages. Many early breast cancers do not have any symptoms, and can only be picked up during screening. Do note that many symptoms will not end up being cancerous. You are advised to watch your body, and go for regular screenings if you fall under recommended groups.

 

Article reviewed by Dr Chong Chee Keong, breast surgeon at Parkway East Hospital

References

Lim, Faye Lynette, Cancer Myths and Facts: The Truth About Antiperspirants, Bras and Hair Dyes. Retrieved 1 October, 2021, from https://www.healthxchange.sg/cancer/womens-cancer-concerns/cancer-myths-facts-antiperspirants-bras

Conner, K. Breast Cancer Myths vs. Facts. Retrieved 1 October, 2021, from https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/myths-facts

Myth: If you have a family history of breast cancer, you are likely to develop breast cancer, too. (n.d.). Retrieved 30 August, 2021, from https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-myths/if-you-have-a-family-history-of-breast-cancer-you-are-likely-to-develop-breast-cancer-too/

Myth: If the gene mutation BRCA1 or BRCA2 is detected in your DNA, you will definitely develop breast cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved 30 August, 2021, from https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-myths/if-the-gene-mutation-brca1-or-brca2-is-detected-in-your-dna-you-will-definitely-develop-breast-cancer/

Questions and Answers about Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). (n.d.). Retrieved 1 October, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/breast-implants/questions-and-answers-about-breast-implant-associated-anaplastic-large-cell-lymphoma-bia-alcl

Wong, S.W. (2021, Jan 20). Why Doc Talk: Men can get breast cancer too; support needed for men battling the disease. Retrieved 1 October, 2021, from https://www.straitstimes.com/life/doc-talk-men-can-get-breast-cancer-too-support-needed-for-men-battling-the-disease

Male Breast Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved 1 October, 2021, from https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/male_bc

6.OCT.2021
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Chong Chee Keong
General Surgeon
Parkway East Hospital

Dr Chong Chee Keong is a general surgeon practising at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital and Parkway East Hospital, Singapore. He specialises in minimally invasive breast surgery, and the diagnosis and surgical management of breast cancer and colorectal cancer.