6 Biggest Breast Cancer Myths Debunked

breast cancer awareness ribbonsBreast Cancer Awareness Month definitely opens our eyes to all the different ways women are preventing, coping with, and treating the disease. But that doesn't mean that plenty of urban legends, exaggerations, and outright falsehoods about breast cancer persist -- some even passed down from generation to generation or from doctor to patient. 

And since knowledge is power -- especially when it comes to our health -- it's important that we make sure to double-check the research and set the record straight. Here, five of the biggest myths about breast cancer risk, screenings, and treatment -- debunked!

  1. MYTH: Mammograms are the only screening worth having. REALITY: There are various types of screening methods used for detecting breast cancer, like digital mammography, ultrasound, and thermography. Soon, there may even be a new breast cancer scanner, which finds tumors in the breast without radiation, using infrared beams and thermal technology.
  2. MYTH: There are drugs you can take to safely prevent breast cancer. REALITY: Two drugs, tamoxifen and raloxifene, are approved to prevent breast cancer, but they're rarely used for that purpose, because they can have serious side effects like blood clots or bone and joint pain. The side effects are so bad women who have already had breast cancer skip these pills. And exemestane (brand name Aromasin), a new drug that has yet to be approved, caused more women in trials to have hot flashes and arthritis than those on the placebo. Seems smarter to steer clear of these scripts, if at all possible, and focus on reducing environmental factors that can contribute to breast cancer risk.
  3. MYTH: Being overweight means you're more likely to get breast cancer. REALITY: Recent research shows that post-menopausal, obese women have the highest risk of developing breast cancer, because higher BMI may bump up levels of estrogen. But there are other hormonal issues that do not relate to weight, and a woman can be estrogen-dominant regardless of her BMI. 
  4. MYTH: Wearing an underwire bra causes breast cancer, because they compress the lymphatic system of the breast and cause toxins to accumulate. REALITY: Even though my mom used to freak me out with this one and insist I go for a bra without an underwire, the general scientific consensus on this is that it's an urban legend. Neither the type of bra you wear nor the tightness of your underwear or other clothing has any connection to breast cancer risk.
  5. MYTH: Your dad's family history of breast cancer doesn't matter ... or at least not as much as your mother's. REALITY: Although women with a maternal history of breast cancer are five times more likely to be referred to a specialist, it's important not to underestimate your paternal history. To determine the risk, you need to look at the women in your pop's fam. Men do get breast cancer, but women are more vulnerable to it. You should also consider associated cancers in men, like early-onset prostate or colon cancer. 
  6. MYTH: Annual mammograms expose you to so much radiation that they actually increase your risk of cancer. REALITY: While you are exposed to some radiation when you get a mammo, the amount is very small and any associated risk is minuscule when compared to the preventative benefits of the screening. Mammos can even detect lumps before they can be felt or otherwise detected. As we all know, the earlier they're detected, the better!

What's another myth about breast cancer that you wish more women knew about?


Image via Kai Chan Vong/Flickr

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