Busting Breast Cancer Myths

As breast cancer awareness month comes to a end, COSMO reveals (and debunks) a few of the myths surrounding breast cancer we came across this October.

While brainstorming to bring our fun, fearless readers something engaging to read on breast cancer, we discovered that there isn’t much we haven’t already covered in the magazine. But we did discover a few myths about breast cancer circling the Internet and filling our Inboxes. We spoke to the experts and debunked a few of them.

‘Only women get breast cancer’
Because breast cancer develops in breast tissue, and because all humans have breast tissue, men are also at risk of getting it. But according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), this is extremely rare because the risk for men is 100 times less than for women.

‘Breast cancer always comes in the form of a lump’
‘Breast cancer today should be diagnosed before a lump can be detected clinically,’ says Pretoria oncologist M A Cocchia-Portugal. An early sign of the disease inside the milk duct is known as Ductal Carcinoma in situ or DCIS – signs of cancer cells inside of the milk ducts (not yet breast cancer) can most of the times be easly detected in a mammogram. Coccia-Portugal says other warning signs without a lump include inflammation of the breast, eczema of the nipple (Paget’s Disease), nipple discharged, an inverted nipple and a skin dimple.

‘Underwire bras cause breast cancer’
‘The idea that wearing an under-wire bra, or a bra in general, might increase risk for breast cancer, is not supported by scientific evidence,’ says the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation on their website. ‘There is no biological reason the two would be directly linked, and any observed association is likely due to other factors associated with wearing a bra.’

‘Small-breasted women have less chance of getting breast cancer’
There is no scientific evidence to support this claim either. ‘The density of breast tissue increases the risk of breast cancer rather than the size of the breasts,’ says Alice Victor from CANSA. Women with dense breast tissue have a higher risk of breast cancer because they have more glandular and less fatty tissue. But, unfortunately, dense breast tissue also makes spotting problems on mammograms more difficult.

‘Hair relaxers cause breast cancer’
A study by researchers from Boston University and Howard University in 2007 showed that using hair relaxer does not increase your risk of breast cancer. ‘Relaxer ingredients can enter the body through scalp lesions and burns. Because manufacturers are not required to list all ingredients, these products may contain unknown harmful substances,’ the report theorised. But, in the study of more than 48 000 African American women, researchers found there was no link between an increased risk and frequency of use, age of first use, types of relaxers or the number of burns experienced when using relaxers.

‘I’m too young for breast cancer’

While your risk of developing breast cancer increases the older you get, all woman are at risk. And although there are few cases of breast cancer being discovered in women younger than 35, a more aggressive cancer is often detected.
‘Diagnosing breast cancer in young women can be more difficult because their breast tissue is often denser than the breast tissue of older women,’ says the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. ‘By the time a lump can be felt in a young woman, it is often large enough and advanced enough to lower her chances of survival.’

‘Using antiperspirants increases your risk of breast cancer’
According to the American Breast Cancer association, a large study of breast cancer causes found there was no link between antiperspirants or shaving your armpits and breast cancer. Breakthrough Breast Cancer, a UK breast cancer research and education foundation, agrees.
‘A large number of scientific studies have investigated breast cancer risk factors, however there is no reliable evidence to suggest that the use of deodorants or antiperspirants are two of them,’ the foundation says on its website. ‘Current scientific evidence suggests that deodorant or antiperspirant use does not increase the risk of or cause breast cancer.’

‘If you’re at risk of getting breast cancer, you can’t do much but watch for the signs’
Victor says even though you may be at risk, CANSA recommends active ways to reduce that risk by:
* Eating a diet low in animal fat and animal protein;
* eating a diet high in fibre and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables;
* exercising regularly;
* avoiding being overweight;
* limiting your alcohol to one drink a day, if at all; and
* avoiding hormone therapy.

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