Being Well

5 Common Breast Cancer Myths, Debunked

Breast cancer myths can affect prevention and treatment. Learning the truth can help save your life.

Even in the information age, rumors and myths about certain health conditions still exist. Some of the most popular involve breast cancer — maybe you’ve even heard some breast cancer myths yourself.

It’s hard to pinpoint where these rumors come from, but there are many myths about breast cancer. While some are more outlandish than others, the fact remains that wrong ideas about breast cancer can stop good prevention and treatment efforts. It’s vitally important for you to know the facts about breast cancer so you can make important decisions about prevention and treatment. Here is what you should know about some of the most common breast cancers myths.

1. If You Find a Lump, It’s Definitely Breast Cancer

Tracey Gosse, the program manager at the UVA Breast Care Program, says, “This is the most common myth we hear … but this isn’t necessarily the case!” There are many types of noncancerous, or benign, masses that are found in breast tissue, including scarring, cysts and areas of dense breast tissue. These areas may feel unusual, and if you feel a lump, you should talk with your doctor as soon as possible. He or she will be able to order certain diagnostic tests, like a mammogram, that can help rule out cancer.

2. Wearing an Underwire Bra Causes Breast Cancer

Many women still have the idea that wearing an underwire bra can cause breast cancer, but a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (from the American Association for Cancer Research) showed absolutely no correlation between the two. The study examined data from over 1,500 women, including cup size, the number of hours each day a bra was worn, whether or not the bras were underwire and the age at which each woman first started wearing bras. It was determined that wearing a bra doesn’t cause breast cancer.

3. Your Deodorant or Antiperspirant Can Cause Breast Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, there’s no strong evidence that shows deodorants and antiperspirants containing aluminum actually increase your risk of developing breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute agrees, saying there’s no scientific basis for this breast cancer myth.

4. Only Women Get Breast Cancer

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017, as many as 2,470 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Unfortunately, men with breast cancer have higher mortality rates. This isn’t because men are just putting off going to their doctors — most men simply don’t know a lump could be breast cancer.

5. There’s Nothing You Can Do to Prevent Breast Cancer

There’s no sure way to prevent it, but there are still things you can do to lower your risk of developing breast cancer. By making certain lifestyle changes, you can help to take control of your health and lower your chances of developing cancer. Eating a healthy diet, exercising often, limiting alcohol consumption and maintaining a healthy weight can all help you reduce your risk. And of course, maintain annual, routine checkups with your doctors to keep your health top of mind.

Each month, you should also perform a breast self-examination, as the National Breast Cancer Foundation details. Gosse says, “Make sure you check your breasts every month, at the same time every month. You’ll recognize if something’s changed.” Since you know what your breasts feel like better than anyone else, this simple self-exam can help you catch any potential problems early.

If you have questions about breast cancer myths, talk with your doctor. If you find a lump, keep in mind that it’s not necessarily cancer, but still see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor can help determine whether or not there is cause for concern.

The UVA Breast Care Program offers advanced diagnostic and screening options, personalized for women and men at risk of developing breast cancer.

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  • sydsinger

    Wrong! Wearing tight bras is a leading cause of breast cancer.

    I am a medical anthropologist breast cancer researcher and co-author of Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras. There are many studies that now show bras cause breast cancer. The study mentioned in this article is the only one that did not show this link, and that’s because that study deliberately did not include bra-free women. It only included women over 55 who were lifetime bra-users. That means there was no bra-free control group, making the results meaningless, like studying the tobacco-link cancer link and ignoring non-smokers.
    The fact is that bra-free women have about the same risk of breast cancer as men, while the tighter and longer the bra is worn the higher the risk rises, to over 100 times higher for a 24/7 bra-user compared to bra-free.
    FYI, here are some studies supporting the link. For more, see my website BrasAndBreastCancer dot org.

    SOME STUDIES THAT SUPPORT THE BRA/CANCER LINK:

    1991 Harvard study (CC Hsieh, D Trichopoulos (1991). Breast size, handedness and breast cancer risk. European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology 27(2):131-135.). This study found that, “Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users…”

    1991-93 U.S. Bra and Breast Cancer Study by Singer and Grismaijer, published in Dressed To Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras (Second Edition, Square One Publishers, 2018). Found that bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men. 24/7 bra wearing increases incidence over 100 times that of a bra-free woman.

    Singer and Grismaijer did a follow-up study in Fiji, published in Get It Off! (ISCD Press, 2000). Found 24 case histories of breast cancer in a culture where half the women are bra-free. The women getting breast cancer were all wearing bras. Given women with the same genetics and diet and living in the same village, the ones getting breast disease were the ones wearing bras for work.

    A 2009 Chinese study (Zhang AQ, Xia JH, Wang Q, Li WP, Xu J, Chen ZY, Yang JM (2009). [Risk factors of breast cancer in women in Guangdong and the countermeasures]. In Chinese. Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 2009 Jul;29(7):1451-3.) found that NOT sleeping in a bra was protective against breast cancer, lowering the risk 60%.

    2011 a study was published, in Spanish, confirming that bras are causing breast disease and cancer. It found that underwired and push-up bras are the most harmful, but any bra that leaves red marks or indentations may cause disease.

    2015 Comparative study of breast cancer risk factors at Kenyatta National Hospital and the Nairobi Hospital J. Afr. Cancer (2015) 7:41-46. This study found a significant bra-cancer link in pre-and post-menopausal women.

    2016 Wearing a Tight Bra for Many Hours a Day is Associated with Increased Risk of Breast Cancer Adv Oncol Res Treat 1: 105. This is the first epidemiological study to look at bra tightness and time worn, and found a significant bra-cancer link.

  • sydsinger

    This article is wrong!
    I am a medical anthropologist breast cancer researcher and co-author of Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras. (New edition coming Nov. 2017.) Numerous studies now show a significant bra-cancer link. The only study that does not is the only one in this misleading article, and that study did not include any bra-free women, only lifetime bra-users who were over 55 years of age.

    The fact is that bra-free women have about the same risk of breast cancer as men, while the tighter and longer the bra is worn the higher the risk rises.

    SOME STUDIES THAT SUPPORT THE BRA/CANCER LINK:

    1991 Harvard study (CC Hsieh, D Trichopoulos (1991). Breast size, handedness and breast cancer risk. European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology 27(2):131-135.). This study found that, “Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users…”

    1991-93 U.S. Bra and Breast Cancer Study by Singer and Grismaijer, published in Dressed To Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras (Second Edition, Square One Publishers, 2018). Found that bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men. 24/7 bra wearing increases incidence over 100 times that of a bra-free woman.

    Singer and Grismaijer did a follow-up study in Fiji, published in Get It Off! (ISCD Press, 2000). Found 24 case histories of breast cancer in a culture where half the women are bra-free. The women getting breast cancer were all wearing bras. Given women with the same genetics and diet and living in the same village, the ones getting breast disease were the ones wearing bras for work.

    A 2009 Chinese study (Zhang AQ, Xia JH, Wang Q, Li WP, Xu J, Chen ZY, Yang JM (2009). [Risk factors of breast cancer in women in Guangdong and the countermeasures]. In Chinese. Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 2009 Jul;29(7):1451-3.) found that NOT sleeping in a bra was protective against breast cancer, lowering the risk 60%.

    2011 a study was published, in Spanish, confirming that bras are causing breast disease and cancer. It found that underwired and push-up bras are the most harmful, but any bra that leaves red marks or indentations may cause disease.

    2015 Comparative study of breast cancer risk factors at Kenyatta National Hospital and the Nairobi Hospital J. Afr. Cancer (2015) 7:41-46. This study found a significant bra-cancer link in pre-and post-menopausal women.

    2016 Wearing a Tight Bra for Many Hours a Day is Associated with Increased Risk of Breast Cancer Adv Oncol Res Treat 1: 105. This is the first epidemiological study to look at bra tightness and time worn, and found a significant bra-cancer link.

    It would be nice if medical institutions like UVA actually did some research before dismissing the bra-cancer link. For more, see my website BrasAndBreastCancer.org.

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN