Know the Real Risks—and What’s Probably Harmless

Next to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer for U.S. women. Breast cancer’s prevalence can make it seem everywhere and lead to unnecessary worry. Calm your fears by learning the truth about some common myths surrounding breast cancer risk factors.

 

Myth #1: Deodorant causes breast cancer.

You may have heard that ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants can cause breast cancer. Some researchers once concluded that aluminum and parabens in underarm cosmetics act like estrogen and encourage cancer cells to develop. Experts who regularly review research studies have found no credible evidence of links between deodorant and breast cancer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Institutes of Health.

 

Myth #2: Only people with a family history of breast cancer get breast cancer.

It’s true that a family history of breast cancer (or an inherited genetic mutation) can greatly raise breast cancer risk. But a large majority—85 to 90%—of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. Whether you have a family history or not, it’s important to talk with your doctor about breast cancer screening. Most guidelines recommend an annual screening mammogram starting at age 40. What’s best for you depends on your age and your family and health history.

 

Myth #3: Wearing a bra will give you breast cancer.

Researchers in the 1990s suggested that bras compress the breasts, preventing the lymphatic system from flushing out toxins, and leading to causing cancer. Another study showed a potential link between bras and breast cancer as well. A deeper look at the research showed the potential link is a correlation rather than cause and effect: Overweight and obese women have a greater risk of breast cancer and are more likely to wear bras. To date, no research links bras and breast cancer.

 

Myth #4: Breast implants cause breast cancer.

There is no evidence that breast implants—either silicone or saline-filled—are linked to breast cancer. However, the FDA found there is a small increased risk of a very rare cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) in women with breast implants. ALCL is not breast cancer—it’s a cancer of the cells in the immune system. The FDA advises that if you have breast implants, see a doctor if you feel soreness near your implants.

 

Myth #5: Miscarriage raises breast cancer risk.

Pregnancy—and its loss—can cause a woman’s hormones to fluctuate. But, having a miscarriage does not increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Miscarriage can be a traumatic experience. If you’ve had a miscarriage, focus on your recovery—not on a risk of breast cancer.

 

Myth #6: Drinking coffee or tea causes breast cancer.

According to Susan G. Komen, several analyses of breast cancer research have found no link between coffee or tea and increased risk of breast cancer. Some studies even find that drinking coffee or tea may decrease your risk of breast cancer and other types of cancer, but research is ongoing. Science hasn’t pinpointed specific foods or drinks that lower your breast cancer risk—but we do know that eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a healthy weight keep you healthier overall.

 

Myth #7: If you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, you will get breast cancer.

Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes increase your risk of developing breast cancer—but they don’t guarantee it. Approximately 45% of women with the BRCA2 mutation and 55 to 65% of women with the BRCA1 mutation will develop breast cancer, compared to 12% of women overall, according to the National Cancer Institute. Genetic testing is necessary to determine if you have these mutations. If you have a BRCA mutation, targeted therapies and surgery can greatly reduce your risk of breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about which may be right for your situation.

 

Myth #8: Large breasts are more prone to breast cancer.

You may think that the more breast tissue you have, the more likely you are to have breast cancer. It’s not true. However, it can be harder to read mammograms of large breasts, and your mammogram may take longer and involve more pictures. Fortunately, breast cancer screening technology is becoming more accurate with time. And follow-up screening techniques, such as an ultrasound and MRI, are available if your doctor needs more images to rule out cancer.