This October, you'll likely see a flurry of pink products pushed by retailers to raise awareness for breast cancer. While I love a good pink hat or bracelet, understanding how breast cancer impacts the population is crucial to raising awareness — as is debunking breast cancer myths that spread misinformation. With the exception of skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, and there is approximately a 1-in-8 chance that a woman will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Knowing the truth about what causes breast cancer and how you might be affected could help you or someone you love.
The internet is a wonderful place, but you're likely to run into a few hiccups now and then in the form of false reports or people speaking from an uninformed place. When it comes to your breast health, you need to know the facts. Breast surgeons Dr. Jessica Young with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Dr. Beth C. Freedman with CareMount Medical, leaders in the field of breast cancer, are two women here to help unmask some common breast cancer myths. Read on to see what they have to say about family history, what does and doesn't cause breast cancer, and more.
1. All Breast Cancers Form A Noticeable Lump
Although many people think of breast cancers as a classic "lump" that can be felt through a self-exam, that is not the only sign of breast cancer. "Breast cancer can occur as a lump, but it can also be detected if there is tethering of the skin, bloody nipple discharge, and/or occasional pain. Today, however, it is most commonly diagnosed through a mammogram or ultrasound screening," Freedman says.
Bringing any and all breast changes — not just lumps — to your doctor's attention is of the utmost importance. "Most breast cancers do not form a noticeable lump. Most breast cancers are found on annual screening mammograms, and are too small to be felt," Young tells Romper. "This is good because it means the breast cancers are being caught at any early stage." In fact, mammograms are reported to reduce the number of breast cancer-related deaths that occur thanks to early detection, according to the National Cancer Institute.
2. Men Can't Get Breast Cancer
While it is definitely more prevalent in women, men can get breast cancer, too. "Men have breast tissue and can absolutely get breast cancer," Young tells Romper. "For every 100 women that get breast cancer, one man gets breast cancer."
Freedman also offers the following statistics to explain the risk of a man developing breast cancer: "While male breast cancer is rare, it still affects 1 in 830 men (0.1%). Men who carry BRCA genes have a 6 to 8% lifetime risk of getting breast cancer."
Due primarily to the lack of awareness, men have a higher mortality rate from breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Encouraging the men in your life to check their breasts for changes just like women do and report those changes to their doctor could save lives.
3. Young Women Don't Get Breast Cancer
"While most breast cancers occur in women over age 50, with the median age being 62, breast cancer can occur in younger women," Freedman tells Romper. "Breast cancer in women under age 40 accounts for about 5% of all breast cancers. Therefore, no matter the age of the patient, any new lump or change in the breast should be taken seriously and examined by a physician."
The statistics may hint toward breast cancer being a less prevalent issue among young women, but that doesn't mean it can't happen at a young age. "Unfortunately, young women can certainly get breast cancer," Young says. "We recommend women to start having breast exams by their physician starting at age 18."
4. Wearing An Underwire Bra Causes Breast Cancer
This is a myth that has swirled around the internet and been whispered throughout locker rooms and dressing rooms for years — I've heard it myself — but thankfully research doesn't back it up, according to Freedman and Young.
"There is no scientific evidence that wearing an underwire bra or any bra, day or night, causes breast cancer," Freedman tells Romper. This is fantastic news for women who need the support that an underwire bra provides to hold up the girls and keep everything in place.
5. You Can't Get Breast Cancer If You're Pregnant
Pregnancy can be such a joyous and wonderful event, but unfortunately even this happy time can be marred by the presence of breast cancer in some women. "Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women who are pregnant and postpartum," Dr. Freedman says. "It occurs in 1/3,000 pregnancies."
While a 1-in-3,000 chance of developing breast cancer during pregnancy does seem like a long shot, it does happen. Young recommends that pregnant women notify their physicians of any breast changes in order to ensure that they are not indicative of breast cancer.
6. If I Don't Have A Family History, I Can't Get Breast Cancer
"Most women who get breast cancer have no family history of breast cancer, or any strong risk factors," Young says. Because approximately 1 out of 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society, it is important for all women to be informed of breast cancer risks, regardless of family history.
"Hereditary and genetically driven breast cancers only account for 5 to 10% of all breast cancers. A family history of breast cancer in one to two first degree relatives, or two or more second degree relatives, will dramatically increase a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. However, 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of breast cancer," Freedman says.
7. Trauma To The Breast Causes Breast Cancer
"Trauma to the breast does not cause breast cancer," Young says. "However, sometimes when someone has trauma to the breast, they notice changes more, which may lead them to think that trauma caused the breast cancer."
Trauma to the breast could include injuries from accidents such as a seatbelt cutting into the breast during a car crash, the breast being hit while participating in a sport, or even being bit extra hard by your toddler while breastfeeding, but none of these events can lead to breast cancer. "There are cases when trauma to the breast makes a mass more visible and noticeable, which can result in the individual seeking attention from a medical professional," Freedman says.
8. Breast Cancer Is Contagious
"Breast cancer is not contagious," Young tells Romper. "You cannot get breast cancer from hanging out, hugging, or touching a patient with breast cancer." In fact, hanging out with someone who has breast cancer will probably make their day better and there is no risk of spreading cancer from them to you.
"Breast cancer occurs in the breast cells and cannot be spread by contact with patients who have breast cancer or via respiratory pathways or body fluids," Dr. Freedman says. Simply put, it is a biological impossibility to "catch" breast cancer.
Beth C. Freedman, M.D., CareMount Medical
Jessica Young, M.D., Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center