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Top 10 Breast Cancer Risk Myths - Some Common Misconceptions

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Updated November 03, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What do you believe about the risk of getting breast cancer? Are your beliefs based on truth? Here are several popular myths, and the facts. Make smart choices and reduce your risk.

1. Myth: Antiperspirants cause breast cancer

Not true. There is no research that proves that the use of antiperspirants can cause breast cancer. Some medical studies have been done on tissue samples from breast cancer patients, and in some cases, the chemical substance parabens was found, both in antiperspirants and in some tumors. But there is no clear link between antiperspirants and the start of breast cancer. Don't toss out your deodorant yet! Read more in an article on urban legends.

2. Myth: If breast cancer isn't in my family, I can't get it

Not true. Anyone with breast tissue, male or female, is at risk for breast cancer. The risk is higher for women. Add increasing age to having breast tissue, and your risk also increases. If blood relatives have had breast cancer, then you have a bit higher risk than someone with no history of the disease in their family. Check with your doctor and review your family health history, to be on the safe side.

3. Myth: A diagnosis of breast cancer is the same as a death sentence

Not true. Breast cancer is more accurately detected and treated at an early stage, before it spreads, as compared to 20 and 25 years ago. Now, 80% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and who do not have any metastasis (spread of cancer) will survive at least 5 years beyond their diagnosis, and many live even longer than that. Even if the cancer has spread, new treatments and therapies have improved survival rates and quality of life. Early detection is essential.

4. Myth: Only older women get breast cancer

Not true. The risk of getting breast cancer does rise with growing older, but young women (birth - 39 years old) can get breast cancer. Between the ages of 40 - 59 the risk increases to 4%, and between the ages of 60 - 79 the risk is 7%. If you live to be 90 years old, your overall lifetime risk is 14.3%. Develop a healthy lifestyle and reduce your risk. Your body is worth the extra work it takes to enjoy a healthy life.

5. Myth: Birth control pills cause breast cancer

Not true. In the past, birth control pills used a higher dose of hormones to reduce the possibility of conception, but the hormone dose created only a slightly higher risk. Today's birth control pills do contain the hormones estrogen and progesterone, but the doses are lower than the old pills. The lower doses of hormones are not linked to higher risks of breast cancer. Consult with your doctor or nurse practitioner for their professional opinion on your use of birth control pills.

6. Myth: A high-fat diet causes breast cancer

Not true. Despite several medical studies on this issue, it can not be proved that a diet that is high in fat will cause breast cancer. Excess body weight in the form of fat results in higher production of estrogen, in addition to that which your ovaries already produce. That extra estrogen may fuel some types of breast tumors. A diet that is low in saturated fats is good for your heart health (lower cholesterol) as well as your breast health (normal estrogen levels.)

7. Myth: Breast cancer is in my family and I can't avoid getting it

Not true. You are a unique person, and your body is made up of a combination of inheirited qualities. Even if you are tested for breast cancer genes, you can still take control of several aspects of your overall health. A healthy diet, not smoking, very little alcohol, regular exercise, can all add up to a lower risk for you. Here are ten risk-reduction strategies to get started on.

8. Myth: Having kids and breastfeeding is guaranteed protection

Not true. While it is true that having at least 2 pregnancies before you're 30, and breastfeeding your babies can lower your risk of getting breast cancer, it is not a guarantee of protection. However, to further lower your risk, add regular exercise and a healthy diet, don't smoke and drink very little alcohol. Have regular screenings and annual checkups with your doctor, to make sure that you have a baseline on all your critical health tests. You and your children are worth the effort!

9. Myth: Bras cause breast cancer

Not true. This rumor has been around at least since 1995, when Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer wrote a book titled, "Dressed to Kill." During her pregnancy, Soma developed a breast lump. Her lump was never biopsied and never diagnosed, but the couple developed a simple treatment: she stopped wearing her bra. The Singer-Grismaijers then conducted a barely scientific survey based on their own experience and told the world that bras cause breast cancer. This conveniently ignores historical examples of the pre-bra era, during which queens in ancient Egypt and Rembrandt's model for Bathsheba, as well as pioneer women in early America, suffered from breast cancer. Indeed, the American Cancer Society says that no scientifically valid studies have shown that any type of clothing -- including bras -- causes breast cancer.

10. Myth: Surgery actually spreads breast cancer

Not true. The roots of this rumor seem to come from the days when surgeons didn't know as much about germ theory and surgical suites were not exactly hygienic. Three hundred years ago, very few patients lived long after surgery for breast cancer, but it is unlikely that surgery caused the cancer to spread. Infections were common, excess blood loss was hard to control, and modern imaging techniques were unavailable -- these conditions may have caused death after breast surgery. Metastasis could not have been properly detected, so if the cancer had spread before the surgery, a doctor could not combat it effectively. Cancer spreads itself by rapid cell division, diverting the body's blood and nutrients to feed the tumor, and by traveling through the blood and lymph systems.

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