These days, it’s hard to escape the seemingly endless stream of health-related news. Between social media shares and posts with bold claims, it can be a challenge to determine what advice to follow or ignore. But it’s critical to know the difference, especially regarding lifesaving topics like mammograms that aid in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer.
To help women separate fact from fiction during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and all year long, Dr. Yara Robertson, FACS, medical director of surgery and breast surgical oncologist with CARTI, is busting the most notorious breast cancer myths.
Myth: Women won’t get breast cancer if it doesn’t run in their families.
Approximately 85% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. The greatest risk factors for developing the disease are being female and aging. All women, regardless of their age, should practice breast self-awareness. Patients at average risk should begin receiving annual mammograms at 40.
Myth: Breast cancer only affects older women.
While breast cancer is more common in those 50 and older, about 9% of all new cases are found in women younger than 45. Patients with a known risk factor, such as a strong family history, should talk to their health care providers about when to begin screening mammograms.
Myth: Mammograms cause or spread breast cancer.
Neither is true. The radiation emitted from a mammogram is extremely low, with benefits far outweighing the potential risks. Second, breast cancer spreads on a cellular level, not by compression. Mammograms are a proven tool to reduce breast cancer deaths by improving early detection.
Myth: Antiperspirants increase the risk of breast cancer.
This rumor stemmed from an unsubstantiated study that stated these products, which contain aluminum and parabens, block lymphatic function in the upper and outer quadrants of the breast, where cancer is often found. Further research has consistently shown no causal link between the use of antiperspirants and breast cancer.
Myth: Underwire bras cause breast cancer.
This theory is based on the false belief that underwire bras obstruct the lymphatic system and lead to a backup of fluid in the breast. Breast cancer can travel through the lymphatic system, but blockages do not cause it.
Myth: Breast pain is always cause for concern.
Breast discomfort is normal and can be caused by ill-fitting bras, hormonal changes, caffeine intake and more. It’s likely not cancer, but women should talk to a health care professional about being examined if their breast pain becomes severe or persistent.
Myth: Receiving an annual mammogram will guarantee that cancer is found.
Mammograms are the most effective screening tool for breast cancer; however, mammograms may miss up to 20% of breast cancers. Practicing breast self-awareness and getting a clinical breast exam may pick up those cancers missed on mammograms. Women at greater risk (e.g., those with dense breast tissue) should talk to their health care providers about the need for earlier screening or supplemental imaging, such as breast MRIs.
When scrolling, it’s important to remember that myths about breast cancer abound. If you have questions or concerns about how to safeguard your breast health, ask trusted experts like Dr. Robertson at The Breast Center at CARTI.