8 breast cancer myths dispelled
Breast cancer can be extremely stressful for women and their families. And misinformation is the last thing a person needs to hear after a breast cancer diagnosis.
Yet many of my patients come to me with so much anxiety following what they’ve read online about the disease. I am very lucky that I get to address my patients’ concerns one on one with them and explain that sources like BCNA, Cancer Australia, and my own website are trustworthy resources where they can learn more about the disease.
Clearly, evidence-based information about breast cancer needs to be more widely available, not just to my patients but also to their families and people I’ll never meet. So as a practicing Specialist Breast Surgeon, I’ve dispelled the top 8 breast cancer myths.
MYTH 1: Underwire in bras causes breast cancer.
There is no evidence of bras with underwire ‘obstructing the lymph flow’ and causing breast cancer in women. Women can feel free to wear whatever breast support feels best for them and know that their choice of bra (or no bra) will not cause breast cancer.
MYTH 2: Mammograms cause cancer.
Like an x-ray, the dose of radiation from a mammogram is low. It’s 1/20th of what we get in daily life in a year. To put that into perspective, it’s about the same amount of radiation as a trip to the UK. Mammograms are by far the best tool for early detection of breast cancer and the benefits of annual mammograms for early detection far outweigh the very low risk of harm from small doses of radiation.
While we’re on this topic, don’t forget to book in for your annual mammogram if you are a woman in Australia, aged 40 or above!
MYTH 3: Breast cancer always causes a lump you can feel.
Breast cancer doesn’t always cause a lump so it’s important to be aware of the other symptoms of breast cancer including breast or nipple pain, change in size, or a newly inverted nipple, among others. If you notice any changes at all in your breasts, book in with your GP. This five-step guide to being more breast aware is also a great place to start.
MYTH 4: Feeling a lump in your breast always indicates breast cancer.
Only a small number of lumps that women find in their breasts actually turn out to be cancerous. Other lumps can be benign, noncancerous, or associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle. However, if you do find a new lump in your breast or underarm, don’t ignore it. Get it checked out by your GP as soon as you can for your own peace of mind.
MYTH 5: Breast cancer only occurs in older women.
Being a woman and getting older are the main risk factors for being diagnosed with breast cancer but breast cancer does not exclusively occur in older women.
1 in 6 breast cancers are diagnosed in women in their 40’s and this is why women can access free annual mammograms from the age of 40 in Australia.
In rarer cases, women under 40 and men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer because it forms in breast tissue which we all have. While the chances are low for these groups, any adult who experiences changes in the way their breasts look or feel should visit their GP.
MYTH 6: A family history of breast cancer means you will develop it.
While family history is an important risk factor, most women with breast cancer don’t have a strong family history. Unless you have multiple direct family members that have been diagnosed with breast cancer, it is unlikely you have cause for concern. I go into more detail about family history and breast cancer in my blog, Breast cancer in the family.
MYTH 7: Women with large breasts are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
As a breast cancer surgeon who has seen and worked with all different kinds of breasts in my career, I can tell you with 100% certainty, that breast size does not affect a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer.
MYTH 8: Sugar causes breast cancer.
There is no evidence that sugar causes breast cancer but it’s important to be mindful of the foods we eat because overindulging in sugar can lead to obesity, which is a significant risk factor for almost all types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Although cutting down on sugar won’t directly reduce your risk of breast cancer, having a balanced diet will keep you healthy and strong in all aspects of your life.
Remember to get all information about breast cancer from trusted sources. I’ll be teaming up with Freelancing Gems in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month for a live Q&A session. So be sure to save up your questions and keep an eye out for more details coming soon!
About the Author:
Dr. Heidi Peverill is a Specialist Breast Cancer and Melanoma surgeon, with an interest in breast preservation and reconstruction. In addition, she cares for women and families at high risk of breast cancer, providing genetic testing and long-term management. Dr. Peverill also manages patients with melanoma, including the provision of sentinel lymph node biopsy, to allow patients to benefit from modern melanoma therapies. Find out more at drheidipeverill.com.