The truth about common breast cancer myths

Underwire bras, using deodorant and a bump to the chest can all cause breast cancer – true or false?

While they’re all false, they’re just some of the myths that exist around the most common cancer affecting Aussie women.

It might be one of the more talked-about cancers but there are still many misconceptions around which factors can play a part in your risk of developing breast cancer, says Cancer Australia medical director Dr Vivienne Milch.

“While we can’t change growing older or our family history, which are the most important risk factors, we can make positive changes to reduce our risk,” says Dr Milch.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – the perfect time to help sort fact from fiction:

Myth 1: Breast cancer only affects women

While around 19,800 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, men aren’t immune.

“Around 170 men will be diagnosed this year,” says Breast Cancer Network Australia policy and advocacy director Vicki Durston.

“We are so fortunate to have one of the best breast cancer survival rates in the world.”

For Australian women, the chance of surviving at least five years after a breast cancer diagnosis is 91 per cent.

Myth 2: Breast cancer only affects older women

While most breast cancers do occur in women over 50 and the risk of developing the disease increases with age, young women are affected too.

Around two to three women under 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer every day in Australia.

Women aged 50 to 74 are invited to have free screening mammograms every two years through the BreastScreen Australia program. Free mammograms are also available for women aged 40 to 49, and 75 and over on request.

Myth 3: Tight-fitting or underwire bras can cause breast cancer

“This is based on the idea that bras might block the breast’s lymphatic system causing the accumulation of lymphatic fluid and ‘toxins’ but there’s no evidence to support this,” Dr Milch explains.

Myth 4: Antiperspirants or deodorants can cause breast cancer

“Deodorants and antiperspirants may contain chemicals such as parabens and aluminium compounds which, because they’re applied close to where breast cancer develops, has led to concerns they might increase risk,” Dr Milch reveals.

“However, studies have not found an association.”

Myth 5: Bumps, knocks and stress can lead to breast cancer

“Cancer isn’t caused by injury, trauma or stress,” Vicki says.

“However, if diagnosed with breast cancer, managing stress can play an important role in managing side effects and symptoms or treatment and also when recovering from surgery and treatment.”

Myth 6: A lump in the breast always means cancer

“Although it is common for women to experience breast changes, the vast majority of these breast changes are not breast cancer,” Dr Milch says.

Vicki says it’s important to be “breast aware”.

“Know your body, and don’t delay if you notice any changes to your breasts – see your GP,” she says.

Breast cancer truths to know about

Regularly drinking alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer

“We now know there is significant evidence that consuming alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer and would encourage minimal consumption of alcohol,” Vicki says.

Family history is a risk factor in breast cancer

We all inherit a set of genes from each of our parents and sometimes there’s a fault or mutation in one copy of a gene which can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer, according to Cancer Australia. About 5 per cent of breast cancers can be explained by this.

Where to get more information

Cancer Australia has developed an interactive breast cancer risk factors website with the latest evidence-based information around breast cancer risks.

BCNA’s My Journey Online tool has comprehensive information and resources for people diagnosed with breast cancer.

Written by Liz McGrath.