Breast Cancer Awareness: The Truth Behind 10 Myths

By: Deborah Dunham Email
By: Deborah Dunham Email

Does deodorant really cause breast cancer? Do breast implants increase your risk for this disease? Can breast cancer be cured, or are you just put into remission? There is a lot of information circulating out there about breast cancer, but not all of it’s based on facts. To get to the truth, Dr. Edith A. Perez, Deputy Director at Large at the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, who says, among other things, that most women with breast cancer can be cured (phew!). Take a look at the other myths out there and the truth behind them according to Perez:

Myth #1: If you’re young, you don’t need to worry about breast cancer:
The median age at diagnosis for breast cancer in the United States is around 61 years. However, the disease can occur at any adult age, with risks increasing as women age. Approximately 1.8% of cases are typically diagnosed between ages 20 and 34 years; 9.9% between 35 and 44 years of age; 22.5% between 45 and 54 years of age. The rest are allocated to a rate of 24.8% diagnosed in women between 55 and 64 years of age; 20.2% between 65 and 74; 15.1% between 75 and 84; and 5.7% 85+ years of age.

Myth #2: Family history and genetics is your biggest risk factor:
The biggest risk for the general population is actually getting older. Other risk factors include increased breast density noted in mammograms, use of postmenopausal combined estrogen-progesterone tablets and chronic alcohol drinking. However, family history and genetics are also very important. Specifically, it is estimated that 5-10% of all breast cancers are directly seen in persons with inherited genetic mutations.

Myth #3: Wearing deodorant/antiperspirant increases your risk of getting breast cancer:
There is just no credible data to support this myth. But, the risk of breast cancer is amongst the highest in some countries where the use of deodorant is lower than the U.S. (at least by report).

Myth #4: Most breast cancer is detected through a lump:
Actually, statistics are rather difficult to analyze related to this issue. However, mammograms are the best tool we currently have for detection of breast cancer for the general population. Moreover, there are some unique types of breast cancer that may present with redness and skin thickening instead of a lump.

Myth #5: Removing a tumor in the breast can cause the cancer to spread: Removing breast cancer helps improve the cure rate–not the opposite.

Myth #6: Breast implants increase your risk of getting cancer:
Not the case, based on available data.

Myth #7: If your mammogram is clear, you don’t have breast cancer:
Although mammography is an excellent screening tool which has been shown to improve survival, it is not perfect. Some tumors are too small to be seen on mammograms, and some women have such density of the breast tissue that the tumors may be obscured. Careful discussion of any concerns should occur between each patient and her physician.

Myth #8: Mammograms expose you to radiation that can cause breast cancer: The amount of radiation from mammograms is very,very small and not one that raises concerns regarding causing cancer in adult women. As perspective, the amount of radiation from mammograms is much lower than that in PET scans or CAT scans.

Myth #9: Women with lumpy breasts are more likely to get breast cancer: Most women have lumpy breasts, so it would be essentially impossible to figure this out. If there was a relationship per se, about 90% or so would develop breast cancer, which is fortunately not the case. Of importance is that most lumps are benign, but there are some specific lumps that may be indicative of cancer.

Myth #10: You can’t get breast cancer after a mastectomy: Not true. Local recurrence can still occur, although the rate is below 1%.

Any other big myths out there about breast cancer?

One myth is that breast cancer is not curable. Actually, most women with breast cancer, although regrettably not all, have potentially curable disease. A significant amount of work, including ours at Mayo Clinic, is being devoted to further improve the cure rate for this disease.

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