Breast cancer myths debunked

We’ve all heard myths about deodorant or underwire bras causing breast cancer. So we talk to those in the know to sort fact from fiction. 

Deodorant causes breast cancer

You – and your female friends – can breathe a big sigh of relief as there is no evidence to suggest that using products that reduce body odour cause cancer. 
 
“This myth [may have] originated from an email hoax claiming that deodorants and antiperspirants stop the body from sweating toxins and that toxins are then absorbed by the lymph glands, causing breast cancer. But we know that breast cancers start in the breast and later spread to the lymph glands. The body does a very efficient job of removing toxins from the body through the liver and kidneys, rather than the lymph glands,” says a Cancer Council NSW spokesperson.

Having a family history means you’ll get breast cancer

A family history of breast cancer means that a person has one or more close relatives such as their mum or sister who have had breast cancer. The more relatives with breast cancer on the same side of the family the more significant the family history becomes, according to Cancer Council NSW, especially if the cancer occurs at an early age. 
 
But only a small proportion of people with a family history are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. “Approximately five to 10 per cent of breast cancers are due to mutations in genes including BRCA1 and BRCA2. It’s very important to know your family history, but most women who get breast cancer do not have a strong family history,” says Dr Sarah Hosking, CEO, National Breast Cancer Foundation.
 

Having large breasts increases your risk

Size really doesn’t matter when it comes to breast cancer. Whether you’re an A cup or DD, your individual risk of getting breast cancer is due to a number of factors, but not directly due to the size of your breasts. “While women who are overweight tend to have larger breasts, their breast size is not relevant to their breast cancer risk. Rather, it is the excess body fat which increases oestrogen production in the body that is linked to breast cancer,” says a spokesperson from Jean Hailes for Women’s Health.
woman having a mammogram

Finding a lump means you have breast cancer

It’s important to check your breasts regularly, but it’s important not to panic if you find a lump because only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. 

“But if you discover a lump in your breast or notice any changes in the look or feel of your breast, these should never be ignored. Most breast lumps are cancer-free or benign and these can be cysts – lumps or sacs filled with fluid or other material – or they can be due to normal breast changes associated with [normal] hormonal changes or ageing,” says Dr Hosking. 

If you notice a change or something unusual in one of your breasts, see a doctor as soon as possible. 

Underwire bras cause breast cancer

“Claims that wearing a bra can cause breast cancer are not credible and have been widely debunked by breast cancer researchers,” says Dr Hosking.
 
This myth may have come from the idea that women in Western cultures who wore bras had a higher rate of breast cancer than women in traditional cultures who rarely wore bras. 
 
Cancer Council NSW points out that it pays to know that these observations are not based on scientific studies and don’t take into account differences in cultures and known risk factors including diet, weight, exercise, age at menstruation, pregnancy and breastfeeding. 

At Bupa, we’ve teamed up with the McGrath Foundation to support breast cancer awareness and the work of McGrath Breast Care Nurses.

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