Your Health

Busting myths about breast health

Photo of four women wearing pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness.
Photo of Martina Gornik-Marion. SUSAN DENNEHY
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, October 5, 2018

Lumps in your breast are a sure sign of cancer.

Biopsies cause breast cancer to spread.

Men don’t get breast cancer.

All three of these statements have at least two things in common.

One, they are all false. Two, they are among the dozens of common misconceptions and myths about breast cancer that are often passed around as fact these days.

This misinformation poses a problem.

Breast cancer continues to affect women and their families worldwide. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that as many as 26,300 women, or about 72 women a day, were diagnosed with the disease in 2017. There were also 230 men diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

As a result, it is important to ensure that women and men have access to accurate information about breast cancer, and how it can be prevented or treated. To that end, the Breast Health Centre has decided to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October by pulling together a list of some of the more common myths about the disease. They include:

Lumps in your breast are a sure sign of cancer.

Not every lump in your breast is a sure sign of cancer. Approximately 80 percent of breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). There are many reasons for breast lumps, such as hormonal changes, benign lumps, fibrocystic changes, injury or infection. If you discover a new lump, see your health-care provider.

Biopsies cause cancer to spread.

This is a common concern. While there is a theoretical risk that a biopsy could cause breast cancer to spread, there is no clear scientific evidence to show that this actually happens. Biopsies provide you and your health-care team with a diagnosis and important information to guide and tailor treatment decisions.

Young women and men don’t get breast cancer.

Young women and men do get breast cancer, but the risk is low. In 2016, the risk of this sort of cancer for women under the age of 40 was four per cent. As for men, approximately one per cent will get breast cancer. Women and men of all ages are encouraged to make breast health part of their overall routine.

Taking birth control pills increases the risk of breast cancer.

There is a small increase in risk, but that ends ten years after discontinuing the pills. Most new types of birth control pills contain smaller amounts of hormones. Talk to your health care provider about what’s best for you.

Chemicals in substances like nail polish, hair dye or antiperspirants can cause breast cancer.

There is no scientific evidence to suggest there is a link between hair dye or antiperspirants to breast cancer. There hasn’t been enough research into nail polish and other nail care products. More research is needed to better understand the effects of chemical exposure and how to protect against these risks in our daily lives.

Eating organic food or going vegetarian helps reduce the risk of breast cancer.

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that eating organic food – or any particular food – will lower your risk. The important thing is to eat a healthy diet. To that end, a vegetarian diet may help reduce the risk because they usually include healthier foods. The DASH and Mediterranean diets are also considered healthy. Remember that too much food – healthy or not – can lead to you becoming overweight. Having high amounts of added sugar and sugary foods will add even more calories and means you are eating less healthy food. Being overweight increases your risk. Bottom line: Eating a well-balanced diet with healthy foods, reducing the amount of added sugar and sugary foods and keeping your weight as healthy as you can, will help reduce your risk of breast cancer.

You can’t do anything to prevent breast cancer.

Breast cancer can strike anyone at any time. But some people are more at risk than others. For example, menopausal women who are overweight or have high body fat are at higher risk. But you can take steps to reduce your risk. For example, working towards a healthy body weight, being physically active, limiting your alcohol intake and quitting smoking can reduce your risk. To learn more about what you can do to help prevent breast cancer, talk your health-care provider – and get the real facts about this disease.

Susan Dennehy is a clinical nurse specialist at the Breast Health Centre. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, October 5, 2018.


Breast Health Centre

The Canadian Cancer Society on how to reduce the risks of breast cancer

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