18 Breast Cancer Myths You Need to Stop Believing

From groundless web articles to distorted “facts” spreading through social media, we are constantly barraged with misinformation about breast cancer. How do we separate breast cancer fact from fiction in the age of fake news? How do we know what to believe?

That’s where this article comes in. New Hope Unlimited is debunking the most persistent breast cancer myths that we should’ve stopped believing years ago. Knowledge is power, and it’s time to replace those myths with scientific truths.


The Truth Behind Breast Cancer Misconceptions

If you’re concerned about getting breast cancer or simply want to learn more about it, prepare to come across a sheer number of valid, not-so-valid, and downright questionable claims about it online. Let’s put these misconceptions to rest, starting with:


Myth #1: Men Are Immune to Breast Cancer

It’s true that breast cancer occurs 100 times more often in women, but that does not mean men are in the clear. Male breast cancer accounts for 1 percent of all breast cancer cases. In other words, although it’s extremely rare, it does happen. Each year, approximately 2,800 men develop breast cancer in the United States.

Men have breast tissue and ducts like women, making them vulnerable to the same types of malignant tumors. Ductal carcinoma in situ is the most common, which is responsible for 20 to 25 percent of annual cancer diagnoses in males and females assigned at birth.

Male breast cancer typically manifests the same way it does in women – a hard lump or mass in the breast, nipple retraction or discharge, or skin changes like dimpling or redness. Never ignore these symptoms just because of your biological sex. The risk factors for men are mostly similar to women as well, including aging, obesity, family history, and radiation exposure, among others. If you have risk factors for breast cancer, be on alert and talk to your doctor about screening.

Further reading: The Stigma of Male Breast Cancer Through the Eyes of a Survivor


Myth #2: Only Older Women Get Breast Cancer

Although the likelihood of developing breast cancer increases with age, younger women can get it, too. In fact, according to data from the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer is among the most common cancers in adolescents and young women aged 15 to 39.


Myth #3: A Lump in Your Breast Is a Sure Sign of Cancer

Lumps are one of many possible symptoms of breast cancer, but not all of them are cancerous. About 60 to 80 percent of breast lumps are benign (noncancerous). Most are due to generally harmless conditions like fibrocystic changes, wherein the tissue becomes swollen, dense, and lumpy. Other common causes are fluid-filled cysts or scar tissue from an old injury. Nonetheless, never ignore a lump in your breast, and see a doctor if you notice other unusual changes.


Myth #4: Wearing Underwire Bras Can Cause Breast Cancer

There is no credible scientific evidence proving that underwire bras cause or contribute to breast cancer. The rumor stems from the idea that underwire bras obstruct lymph flow, forcing toxins to build up in the breasts. However, no clinical research supports this theory.


Myth #5: Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer

In sensationalized media stories and misleading web postings, antiperspirants were rumored to increase breast cancer risk. The allegation originated from concerns that the skin absorbs the chemicals in antiperspirants. This blockage supposedly prevents the release of cancer-causing toxins through sweating, allowing them to accumulate in the breast. No evidence supports this claim. Even the strongest antiperspirant cannot prevent sweating in the first place.

Furthermore, the kidneys remove the majority of cancer-causing agents, releasing them through urine. The liver also plays a vital role in detoxifying and filtering out harmful substances from the blood. Sweating, compared to the kidneys and liver, is not a significant pathway for expelling toxins from the body.

On the one hand, chemicals like parabens in personal care products, including some types of antiperspirants, may mimic estrogen and, as a consequence, increase breast cell growth. Avoid such harmful chemicals to minimize your risk.


Myth #6: Breast Cancer Is a Genetic Destiny

Yes, having a family history of breast cancer increases your risk. However, most cases are not due to inherited genetic mutations. Only about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are hereditary on account of abnormal changes in genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2.

If you have a strong family history of malignant breast tumors, especially in close relatives, talk to your doctor about genetic testing. Having a mother, father, sibling, or child with breast cancer doubles your risk, although the overall likelihood remains small. The majority of cases occur due to natural cell mutations accumulating over time. Advancing age, environmental exposures, lifestyle, hormone levels, and smoking still have bigger influences on your risk.


Myth #7: Women With Bigger Breasts Are More Prone to Cancer

There is no correlation between breast size and cancer risk, although it can be more challenging for imaging tests to detect tumors in people with dense breast tissue. A radiologist looking at a mammogram can determine whether or not a patient has dense breasts.


Myth #8: Mammograms Can Cause Breast Cancer

No conclusive evidence shows that mammography can cause breast cancer. Mammograms do expose patients to radiation, but the amount is considerably safe and necessary to produce a clear X-ray image. The advantages of early detection far outweigh the potential risks.

Some people also worry that compressing the breasts during a mammogram could spread cancer cells or somehow cause breast cancer. Again, no evidence supports this concern. Mammogram compression lasts a few seconds and does not apply enough pressure to rupture or spread cancer cells.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding breast cancer screening or general breast health. Together, you can weigh the pros and cons based on your unique situation and medical history. However, for most women, following the recommended mammogram screening guidelines is the best way to detect breast cancer early. Do not let misconceptions deter you from getting this life-saving test.


Myth #9: No Symptoms, No Breast Cancer

The misconception that a person does not have breast cancer if they have no symptoms is false and dangerous. Symptoms are usually the last to appear, typically after a tumor has grown large enough for mammograms or physical exams to detect.

Early-stage breast cancers rarely cause pain, lumps, and other obvious signs. This is why routine mammograms are so important, as they can help identify small, non-symptomatic cancers at their most treatable stages. Ignoring regular checkups based on a lack of symptoms could allow an already present but non-symptomatic breast cancer to spread unnoticed.


Myth #10: Excessive Smartphone Use Causes Breast Cancer

The claim that cell phones and other devices cause breast cancer has been circulating for years. Scientists have always dismissed the claim until a recent study revealed that smartphones might actually elevate breast cancer risk.

A paper published in 2020 concluded that excessive smartphone use raised the risk of breast cancer, particularly among Taiwanese participants with the habitual behavior of using their cell phones close to their breasts for more than 4.5 minutes before bedtime. However, this study is one of the few opposing the larger body of evidence claiming that cell phones do not increase breast cancer risk.

Cell phones emit radiation in the radiofrequency region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Second-, third-, and fourth-generation cell phones (2G, 3G, 4G) emit radiofrequency in the frequency range of 0.7–2.7 GHz. Fifth-generation (5G) cell phones may use up to 80 GHz frequency spectrum. These frequencies are all non-ionizing radiation, which lacks sufficient energy to damage DNA directly. In contrast, ionizing radiation like X-rays, radon, and cosmic rays are high frequency and energy. Ionizing radiation can damage DNA through its higher energy levels, and DNA damage may increase cancer risk over time.

The human body absorbs energy from devices emitting radiofrequency radiation. However, the only consistently documented biological effect in humans is minor heating of areas where a cell phone is held, like the ear. However, this heating is not enough to elevate core body temperature. Radiofrequency radiation exposure has not exhibited any other established dangerous health effects on the human body.

While further research is necessary, more evidence suggests that smartphones are not a major risk factor for breast cancer. Their low-intensity radiation does not damage DNA in a way that could lead to cancer development. However, as a precaution, use cell phones in moderation and avoid excessive usage, especially before bedtime.


Myth #11: Stress Does Not Contribute to Cancer Development

While stress alone does not cause breast cancer, evidence suggests that chronic stress may promote conditions that raise breast cancer risk.

When a person experiences stress, the body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Prolonged elevated levels of these hormones can impair the immune system, and a weakened immune system has difficulty fighting off illnesses, including cancer. A recent study also found that cortisol levels are higher in pre- and postmenopausal women with untreated breast cancer and women with breast cancer addressed with neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Stress also affects estrogen levels in the body, which fuels breast cancer growth.

Lifestyle factors often change under chronic stress as well, which can influence health. People may adopt unhealthy habits like smoking, excess alcohol use, and poor diet and sleep patterns when under prolonged stress. These behaviors are risk factors for breast cancer, too. Stress can also reduce physical activity levels, and exercise offers some protection effects against breast cancer.


Myth #12: Shift Work Is 100% Not a Risk Factor for Breast Cancer

The myth that shift work is not a risk factor for breast cancer persists despite growing evidence to the contrary. Although further investigations are necessary, studies demonstrate that women who work at night have an increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who work regular daytime hours. The reasons why shift work may raise breast cancer risk include:

  • Light exposure: Excessive exposure to artificial light at night may suppress melatonin for longer periods and disrupt the body’s internal clock.
  • Circadian rhythm disruption: Shift work, especially night shifts, disrupts biological clock genes and melatonin production, which may lead to higher breast cancer risk.
  • Sleep deprivation: Graveyard shift workers often experience chronic sleep loss and poor sleep quality. Lack of sleep leads to higher cortisol levels, weaker immunity, and increased inflammation, all of which may promote cancer development.
  • Lifestyle factors: Graveyard workers may have less healthy lifestyle habits that increase cancer risk, such as irregular eating patterns, less physical activity, and higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption.

Learn more about the link between night shift work and breast cancer.


Myth #13: Certain Drugs Can Prevent Breast Cancer

Some people believe that certain drugs can help prevent breast cancer. That is simply false, as no evidence backs this claim. For example, one drug studied for cancer, known as “chemoprevention,” aims to reduce the risk of developing cancer in healthy women. 

While the concept seems promising, the drug carries serious side effects that could outweigh its benefits. Most importantly, research has not determined whether risk-reduction is temporary or if long-term mortality risk might decrease. Considerable research is a must regarding the effects of such drugs. In addition, concern exists around administering risk reduction medication to healthy women since many may never develop breast cancer regardless of treatment. Further analysis is necessary before definitively concluding that such drugs can lower cancer risks.


Myth #14: Newer Treatments Can Now Cure the Disease

While the medical and scientific communities have been making one therapeutic breakthrough after another, we have much to learn about breast cancer. We have more targeted, non-toxic, and minimally invasive approaches to treatment nowadays, but oncologists cannot guarantee that cancer will not metastasize (spread) or come back.

On a more positive note, many breast cancer survivors are now celebrating 10, 20, 30, or more years of being “cancer-free.” Breast cancer mortality rates have been going down steadily since 1989, achieving an overall decline of 42 percent through 2021. Many attribute the reduced death rate to the introduction of better treatments.

Also read: Is It Back? Signs of Breast Cancer Recurrence


Myth #15: Breast Cancer Means You Will Need a Mastectomy

A mastectomy, the surgical removal of one or both breasts, is not always necessary. Thanks to advancements in targeted therapies, less invasive surgeries are often viable alternatives.

Breast-conserving surgery, or lumpectomy, removes the tumor and some surrounding tissue while preserving most of the breast. It can be an effective treatment for many women with early-stage breast cancer.

The treatment plan for you depends on your cancer’s specifics, including the stage, hormone receptor status, and other factors. Do not assume mastectomy is your sole choice. Talk to your doctor about breast conservation and other alternatives that could achieve the same therapeutic benefit with fewer side effects. Breast cancer treatment has progressed rapidly, with many promising options beyond removing the entire breast. 


Myth #16: A Breast Injury Can Cause Cancer

Injuries to the breast from accidents or blows can cause pain, bruising, or bleeding that leads to blood build-up (hematoma). Fat necrosis or scarring of breast tissue can also occur after injury, surgery, or biopsy. They often heal over time.

On occasion, a breast cancer diagnosis follows an injury simply because it drew attention to a pre-existing lump. However, the injury did not cause the tumor, which was already present. Ensure to inform your doctor of previous scar tissue or recent breast injuries before your next mammogram.  

Myth #17: You Must Choose a Treatment Immediately After Diagnosis

Having breast cancer can be terrifying, and you might feel the need to rush into treatment as soon as possible. What you may not know is that you have time, sometimes up to a month, to consider which treatment route to take. It’s crucial to learn all you can about your diagnosis, as well as all options and their side effects, before diving right into treatment. Second opinions are also valuable and helpful to everyone diagnosed with cancer. Making an informed decision can do wonders for the speed of your recovery.


Myth #18: Chemotherapy Is Your Only Option

Chemotherapy has long been the go-to treatment option for cancer. It uses powerful drugs to target and kill fast-growing cancer cells. Although proven effective for many patients, it also kills healthy cells that proliferate, like hair follicles and cells that line the digestive tract. It can lead to hair loss, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and lowered immunity. The side effects can be severe and long-lasting, impacting a patient’s quality of life. As a result, cancer treatment has been moving away from chemo and switching over to immunotherapy, which can be as effective. It involves using drugs that attack cancer cells while sparing most healthy cells, ensuring fewer side effects.

Related: The Irony of Breast Cancer Treatments: Side Effects

While chemotherapy remains the standard of care for many breast cancer patients, it is not the only treatment to consider. Ask your doctor about all available options, including less toxic alternatives that may offer similar effectiveness while preserving your quality of life during and after treatment. An individualized, comprehensive plan that leverages the full spectrum of breast cancer therapies provides the best chance for positive outcomes.


The Bottom Line on Breast Cancer Truths vs. Lies

Breast cancer myths only cause unnecessary concern and panic. Now that you know the facts, inform your friends and relatives, and stop the spread of falsehoods surrounding the topic. For safe and accurate breast cancer information, refer to our Cancer News page or call New Hope Unlimited at 480-666-1403. From alternative breast cancer treatment options to survivorship, we are here to keep you informed, provide care, and support you in every step of your journey.

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