Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an international campaign organised by the major breast cancer charities each year in October. The aim is to raise awareness, dispel breast cancer myths and raise funds to improve research into the cause and future prevention of the disease.
There is a lot of information about the disease readily available, so it’s surprising how misinformed many people are. A lot of breast cancer myths are widely shared as facts, and it’s important to know the difference. Here are some of the main myths you’re likely to hear, and the realities you should be aware of.
The Breast Cancer Myths.
Myth #1: Only Women with a Family History of Breast Cancer are at Risk
Breast cancer can affect anyone, and you should be aware of the risk whether you have a family history of the disease or not. While you are considered to be in a slightly higher risk group if relatives of yours have had breast cancer, statistically only 10% of individuals diagnosed with the disease have a family history of it. Having relatives who have developed breast cancer doesn’t necessarily mean you are likely to develop it too, and having no family history doesn’t mean you won’t.
Myth #2: Finding a Lump in Your Breast Means You Have Cancer
If you do discover a lump in your breast or notice any changes in breast tissue, you should always have it checked by a doctor. However, a lump doesn’t always mean you have breast cancer. In fact, only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. Most lumps are caused by benign changes. Keep an eye on any changes in your breasts with routine self-examinations and let your doctor assess the situation before assuming the worst.
Myth #3: Breast Cancer Always Comes in the Form of a Lump
Often a lump in one of the breasts is the first thing to indicate breast cancer, but a lump isn’t the only sign. In many cases, there is no lump. Instead, there may be swelling, skin irritation, dimpling, breast or nipple pain, an unusual discharge from the nipple, or one of some other possible symptoms. When performing self-examinations, you should be looking out for any unusual signs or changes – not just lumps.
Myth #4: Underwire Bras Increase Your Risk of Breast Cancer
The claim that underwire bras restrict the lymph system and cause toxins to build up in the breasts, causing cancer, has not been backed up by any scientific evidence. The consensus amongst experts is that neither the type of bra you wear nor the tightness of your underwear is likely to have an impact on your risk of developing breast cancer.
Myth #5: Wearing Antiperspirant Increases Your Risk of Cancer
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have investigated whether using antiperspirants and deodorant can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, and have found no evidence of any link. Other research has been conducted with the same conclusion. Most people use antiperspirants and deodorants without any harmful effects, so there’s no reason to worry about what you use to keep your underarms fresh.
Myth #6: Mammograms Can Cause Cancer
Mammograms save many lives by detecting breast cancer early, but some feel concerned about the radiation exposure that comes with an x-ray of the breasts, believing it could cause breast cancer to develop or to spread. However, mammograms only require very small doses of radiation which are extremely unlikely to cause any harm. The benefits of mammographic screening far outweigh any potential risks.
Myth #7: Breast Surgery Can Cause Cancer to Spread
Another concern that some people have is that exposing a breast tumour to air during surgery can cause it to spread. Sometimes doctors discover during surgery that the cancer has spread further than was previously thought, and this has perhaps contributed to the spreading of this particular myth. There is no scientific evidence that exposure to air during surgery causes cancer to spread.
Myth #8: Breast Cancer Only Affects Women
Breast cancer is often thought of as a condition that only affects women, but men can develop it too. It is much less common, but there are 350-400 cases of male breast cancer in the UK each year. It is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola and carries a higher risk of mortality than breast cancer in females, mostly because so many men are unaware that it’s a risk. Many of them are unlikely to notice the symptoms of breast cancer because they believe only women can get it.
Some breast cancer myths are harmful, promoting ideas that make people feel dismissive of the risks or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, feel unnecessarily anxious about common everyday habits like using antiperspirant. Make sure you know the difference between the myths and the facts so you know what signs you should be keeping an eye out for, and what you should do if you notice any potential symptoms.
If you live in the Stockport area, you might like to check out the Beechwood Cancer Care Centre. You can click here to their website.
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