Fact-checking 3 misconceptions about breast cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and part of that means being aware of myths, misconceptions, and false viral claims about the disease and detection of it.
Credit: AP Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and part of that means being aware of myths, misconceptions, and false viral claims about the disease and detection of it. The following are some of the top claims doctors say it is important to dispel.

Sources

  • Dr. Lori Gentile, Breast Surgical Oncologist, Novant Health
  • Breastcancer.org, a breast health non-profit, culling the latest studies and resources on breast cancer

Claim

If breast cancer does not run in your family, you're not likely to get it.

Answer

This is false.

"Breast cancer is common -- one in eight women -- and what we actually find is that 85% of women have no known family history of breast cancer or don't have a known genetic link," Gentile said.

According to Gentile, most breast cancers are what is called "sporadic," or random. She says only 5 to 10% of cases are believed to be hereditary. That said, if cancer runs in your family, it is important to let your doctor know.

Claim

Breast cancer always causes a lump.

Answer

This is false.

"The number one symptom of breast cancer is no symptom at all. The majority of breast cancer, particularly in the United States, in 2021, is detected on a screening mammogram," Gentile said. "They're not feeling a lump at all."

Gentile says detection via screening happens 60% of the time, proving that a lump is not always a tell-tale sign and making it important to watch for these signs too:

  • Nipple changes, inversion or discharge
  • Skin changes to the breast, irritation or dimpling
  • Rapid swelling of the breast

Claim

Using deodorant with aluminum and wearing underwire bras cause breast cancer.

Answer  

This is false.

"There have been some small studies that have been done in the past that people may have come across potentially showing an association... but we always have to go back to -- association does not always equal causation," Gentile said, noting that many women who use deodorant and underwire bras do not go on to develop breast cancer.

"I always tell women with breast cancer: is it complex and complicated, and there isn't usually one magic bullet, but so far there hasn't been a study showing that those aren't safe or cause breast cancer," Gentile said.

It's also important to note: While breast cancer impacts women more frequently, men, too, can develop it, and both should be attuned to breast changes. Doctors say women over 40 or at a high risk of breast cancer should have a mammogram every year.

Contact Vanessa Ruffes at vruffes@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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