Myths About Breast Cancer

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Remember, when in doubt seek professional help or advice from your doctor or medical assistant.

Common Myths

  • Myth: Most breast cancers run in families.
    Fact: Only about 5% to 10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary, which means they are caused by abnormal genes passed from parent to child. Lifestyle and environmental factors can have an impact on breast cancer risk.
  • Myth: If you have no symptoms in your breasts, it means you don’t have breast cancer
    Fact: Many people diagnosed with breast cancer have no symptoms. In addition to self-examinations and annual breast exams, you should have regular mammograms if you fall in the recommended age range for screening. The schedule for regular mammograms depends on your age. Mammograms help to detect breast cancer before it causes symptoms, allowing you to get early diagnosis and treatment.
  • Myth: The bigger the breast, the higher the risk of getting breast cancer
    Fact: Breast cancer develops in the cells that line the ducts or lobules – the parts that product milk and carry it to the nipple – and all women have the same number of these, regardless of breast size. What makes breasts bigger or smaller is generally the amount of fat and stroma (fibrous tissue), which research shows have little impact on cancer odds.
  • Myth: Breast cancer only occur in older women
    Fact: Breast cancer can occur at any age. The risk of breast cancer increases as we grow older. In Malaysia, the overall lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is 1 in 19 women.
  • Myth: Wearing a bra increases the risk of breast cancer
    Fact: This myth appears to have started after a book called Dressed to Kill which suggested that bras obstruct toxin-laden lymph fluid from flowing out of the breast. However, this was speculation based on a survey with no scientific evidence.
  • Myth: Breast cancer is contagious.
    Fact: You cannot catch breast cancer or transfer it to someone else’s body. Breast cancer is the result of uncontrolled cell growth of mutated cells that begin to spread into other tissues within the breast. However, you can reduce your risk by practicing a healthy lifestyle, being aware of the risk factors, and following an early detection plan so that you will be diagnosed early if breast cancer were to occur.
  • Myth: Radiation by mammography causes breast cancer
    Fact: The risk of harm from radiation exposure through mammogram is very low. The benefits of early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in reducing mortality outweighs the risk of the small dose of radiation received during a mammogram.
  • Myth: If you feel pain in your breast, it means you have breast cancer
    Fact: It’s common for women of childbearing age to feel pain in their breasts at certain times during their menstrual cycles, especially just before their periods. But if you’re concerned about pain in your breast, regardless of your age, see your doctor for an exam.
  • Myth: Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer.
    Fact: Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. However, if you discover a persistent lump in your breast or notice any changes in breast tissue, it should never be ignored. It is very important that you see a physician for a clinical breast exam. He or she may possibly order breast imaging studies to determine if this lump is of concern or not. Take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, getting an annual clinical breast exam, and scheduling your routine screening mammograms.
  • Myth: Men don’t get breast cancer
    Fact: While less than 1% of new breast cancer diagnosis occur among men, it is still a possibility for men to develop the disease. For males, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1000.

Food & Dietary Myths

  • Myth: Sugar feeds cancer.
    Fact: Sugar doesn’t make cancer grow faster. All cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose) for energy. But giving more sugar to cancer cells doesn’t make them grow faster and starving them of sugar doesn’t make them grow slower. However, eating a lot of sugar, including desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages, can lead to weight gain, which may increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Myth: Eating soy foods causes breast cancer.
    Fact: Studies have not linked eating soy foods to increased breast cancer risk. In fact, evidence suggests it may even lower the risk for developing breast cancer. Soy food can be eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet, both for the general population and people with breast cancer.
  • Myth: Drinking milk can raise risk of breast cancer.
    Fact: Some early studies raised concerns about whether drinking milk from cows treated with hormones can raise risk of breast cancer or other types of cancer. But later studies failed to find a clear link. At this time, it is not clear that drinking milk produced with or without hormone treatment is of concern regarding cancer risk or other health effects.
  • Myth: Taking vitamin supplements can reduce risk of breast cancer.
    Fact: So far, no study has shown that taking vitamins reduces breast cancer risk. Dietary supplements are not regulated like medicines in the United States; they do not have to be proven effective (or even safe) before being sold, although there are limits on what they’re allowed to claim they can do. Food is the best source of vitamins and minerals. If you take vitamins or are thinking about starting, you should talk to your doctor about it.

Pregnancy Myths

  • Myth: A mother who undergoes chemotherapy can still breastfeed.
    Fact: Women undergoing chemotherapy are not allowed to continue breastfeeding. This is because the molecules will go straight into the milk ducts and this is harmful to the child.
  • Myth: Chemotherapy will transfer cancer cells to the baby as well as result in a complicated delivery process.
    Fact: Studies show that cancer itself does not affect the foetus and chemotherapy does not affect its development. The delivery process, on the other hand, varies depending on the case.
  • Myth: A scan/test during pregnancy may harm the baby.
    Fact: The risk of harming the foetus while carrying out any test to detect cancer is high during the implantation (conception to two weeks) and organogenesis (organ formation from two to 12 weeks) stages. Ultrasound is safe as it has no radiation risk. Biopsy of the lump is also safe, while mammography is possible with the aid of an abdominal shield to protect the baby from any radiation. However, X-rays, bone scans as well as CT or Pet scans can only be done after delivery.
  • Myth: Breast cancer symptoms are different from symptoms of pregnancy.
    Fact: Common symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea and an increased density and lumpy texture of the breasts as well as nipple discharge, are similar to those of breast cancer. For instance, breast mass during pregnancy is often thought as obstructed milk ducts while inflammatory changes in the breast are often regarded as cellulitis or mastitis (an infection of the breast tissue that causes pain, swelling, warmth or redness that affects mainly nursing women).
  • Myth: Cancer treatment will result in abortion.
    Fact: Thanks to advancement in cancer treatments, the foetus is no longer aborted in most cases. Current treatments are aimed at controlling the spread and avoiding adverse effects on the foetus, so a patient can start chemotherapy when she enters her second trimester up to 34 weeks. Chemotherapy has to stop after that to avoid any risk should she go into spontaneous labour.
  • Myth: Cancer treatment during pregnancy causes postnatal depression.
    Fact: Although cancer and pregnancy are life stressors, there is no indication that cancer during pregnancy increases the likelihood of post-natal depression.

Treatment Myths

  • Myth: Removing the entire breast is safer than just removing the cancerous lump
    Fact: Mastectomy (complete breast removal) is usually not more effective than just removing the cancerous lump (breast conserving surgery). There are issues with both treatments and patients need to be informed to make the right decision for them.
    Clinical trials have shown that mastectomy and breast conserving surgery with radiation offer the same survival.
  • Myth: Having breast cancer means that you will have to have chemotherapy
    Fact: Whether chemotherapy is recommended to reduce the likelihood of recurrence for early stage breast cancer depends on the type, stage, and recurrence score of the breast cancer. The recurrence score helps determine if you will benefit from chemotherapy. Some with early stage or advanced stage breast cancer receive hormone therapy or therapy targeted to the HER2 receptors (if the breast cancer type is HER2-positive) on the surface of their cancer cells. Sometimes this is recommended instead of chemotherapy or in addition to chemotherapy.
  • Myth: Having breast cancer means that you’ll lose your breast
    Fact: Not everyone with breast cancer who elects surgery has to undergo a complete mastectomy. Different types of breast-conserving surgery are possible, depending on the extent of the tumour. Many women with early stage breast cancer can have effective treatment with surgical removal of the tumor called a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy. Even if you had a complete mastectomy, you may be a candidate for surgical reconstruction of the breast.