Breast cancer is a common fear among women, and knowledge is the best weapon against fear. Sadly, a lot of bad information is out there, which makes it hard to know what to believe. Here is the truth about some common myths.
Myth: Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in American women.
Fact: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, but it is not the main cause of death. Coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack) is by far the number one killer of women in the U.S. It kills more women than all types of cancer combined. Breast cancer is not even the deadliest type of cancer. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women.
Myth: Young women don't get breast cancer.
Fact: Breast cancer usually strikes after menopause, but it is possible at any age. From ages 30 to 39, an average woman's risk is about one in 233 (only about 0.4 percent). When younger women get breast cancer, it is often because they have inherited a genetic mutation linked with cancer.
Myth: Antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
Fact: Some e-mails claim that substances in antiperspirants and deodorants are absorbed through the skin by way of nicks from shaving and can lead to cancer. Neither the National Cancer Institute nor the FDA has found any link between antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer.
Myth: I will get breast cancer because it runs in my family.
Fact: You may be at higher risk for breast cancer if other people in your family have had it. But many women who have a family history of breast cancer never develop it. Your doctor or a genetic counselor can help you understand your personal risk for breast cancer and what steps you can take to lower it.
Myth: I don't have breast cancer in my family, so I won't get it.
Fact: Plenty of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. The fact of being a woman is your main risk factor, and the risk rises as you age, especially after menopause. That's why mammograms and clinical breast exams are important for all women as they get older.
Myth: Bras cause breast cancer.
Fact: This rumor has been spread through e-mail and at least one book. There is no evidence that wearing any type of bra causes breast cancer.
Myth: Only women get breast cancer.
Fact: It's rare, but men can get breast cancer. They account for less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases. Men who get breast cancer often have an inherited breast cancer gene mutation.
When in doubt, check it out
Many myths about breast cancer make the rounds through e-mail and the Internet. Don't believe everything you read. Even if it sounds like it could be true, check the facts. These tips can help:
- Find reliable sources. Go to trusted sites for cancer information, such as the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and myOptumHealth.com. Stay away from any site that sells cancer "cures."
- Search out the evidence. When you hear a claim, look for medical research to support it. Don't rely too much on any single small study. Look for large, well-designed studies conducted through major research centers.
- Talk to your doctor. If you are uncertain about a health claim, ask your doctor at your next visit. Your doctor can help you learn about your risk factors and ways to prevent disease. He or she can also suggest when you should have mammograms and other important screenings.
Created on 10/19/2006
Updated on 03/31/2010
- American Cancer Society. Email hoaxes and chain mail.
- American Heart Association. Women, heart disease and stroke.
- National Cancer Institute. Probability of breast cancer in American women.
- BreastCancer.org. Myths about breast cancer risk.