Top Four Myths About Breast Cancer - Part of World Cancer Day
Today is World Cancer Day and the theme this year is the top myths about cancer. At Breast Cancer Campaign we are often asked if certain rumours are true about breast cancer so we thought today was appropriate to share what we believe are the Top Four Breast Cancer Myths and give you our response to each.
Myth #1: I read online that deodorants cause breast cancer. Is that true?
There has been a link suggested between chemicals in antiperspirants such as parabens and aluminium salts. However, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the use of antiperspirants can cause breast cancer.
Some people have argued that these chemicals might increase breast cancer risk because the majority of breast cancers are found near the underarm – however this can also be explained by the fact there is more breast tissue in this area, and so more cells that can turn cancerous.
The other suggested argument for a link between antiperspirants and breast cancer, popularised by an email hoax, is that by preventing sweat from the armpits, toxins can accumulate in the lymph glands in the armpit, which can lead to breast cancer. However, as Cancer Research UK have pointed out, this is not biologically plausible – sweat is just one way that the body gets rid toxins, but the lymphatic system is separate to this, and will not be affected by antiperspirants.
The largest and most reliable study to date found no increased risk of breast cancer with either deodorant or anti-perspirant use. The study considered the usage of anti-perspirants in about 1,600 women, half of whom had breast cancer and half of whom did not, and found there was no difference in the anti-perspirant use between the two groups.
Parabens have been shown to have a similar, but much weaker, effect as the hormone oestrogen, which is known to encourage the growth of most breast cancers. However a review of all the data available concluded that it was “biologically implausible” that even worst-case daily exposures to parabens in cosmetic products could increase the risk of disease.
Most recent news stories have reported on studies that have found that parabens and aluminium salts are present in breast tissue samples from women with cancer. However, these do not prove that parabens cause breast cancer because they do not compare paraben levels to healthy cells from the same person, paraben levels in tissues from women without breast cancer, or even to recommended “safe” thresholds of parabens in humans.
Therefore, Breast Cancer Campaign say that there is no conclusive proof that antiperspirants cause breast cancer. This view is shared by most other leading cancer organisations, such as Cancer Research UK, the US National Cancer Institute, and the NHS.
Myth #2: Guys don’t think about breast cancer because it only happens to women, right?
Women are far more likely to develop the disease but it does affect men too. Almost 400 men a year are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, and sadly about 80 men die from the disease every year. Breast cancer is not just a woman’s disease, and so men who notice anything unusual in the breast area should get it checked out with their GP.
Currently because of a lack of evidence for any significant differences between male and female breast cancers, treatment for men with breast cancer is the same as for women. However, in November 2011 work published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment by Campaign-funded researcher Dr Valerie Speirs and colleagues found subtle variations between male and female breast cancers in relation to the hormone receptors which are known to influence the growth of most breast cancers. Additionally, and contrary to previous understanding, Dr Speirs found that men and women had similar survival rates at five or ten years.
Although further work is required, the results show that there are biological differences between male and female breast cancers that may have implications for treatment, the findings may open up avenues for new, more specific treatments for men with breast cancer. In an opinion piece about male breast cancer in May 2012 in the scientific journal Nature, she called for more research to gain a greater understanding of the specific biology of male breast cancer to help improve treatment.
Myth #3: Lumps are the only thing you need to check for aren’t they?
There are other symptoms of breast cancer which may or may not appear with a breast lump, such as pain or changes in the appearance of the breast or surrounding area. Therefore it is important to look out for any changes, by knowing what’s normal for your breasts and checking them regularly. If you notice anything you’re concerned about, go and talk to your GP – and it’s important to remember that the majority of lumps turn out to be harmless.
Symptoms to look for include:
•Lumps or thickening of breast tissue
•One breast becomes larger or lower
•Puckering or dimpling of the skin
•Becoming inverted (turned in), changing shape or position
•Developing a rash, crusting or producing discharge
•Swelling under the armpit or around the collarbone
Take a look at our Breast Awareness Quiz for the information you need on signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Remember to sign up for the breast check reminder emails at the end of the quiz!
Myth #4: If no one in your family has breast cancer you’re not at risk, so why would you think about checking your breasts?
Although breast cancer can run in families, over 80 per cent of women with breast cancer have no apparent close family history of the disease. Breast cancer can affect anyone, so it’s really important that everyone looks out for the symptoms of breast cancer and checks their breasts regularly.
Because so many women get breast cancer it doesn't necessarily mean that you're at a higher risk if one of your close relatives does develop it. However, if you have any concerns about your family history of breast cancer you can discuss these with your GP, who may refer you to specialist care if you have a strong history of breast cancer in your family.
Best practice for monitoring women with a family history of breast cancer is set out in the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for Familial Breast Cancer. NICE is currently consulting on a draft update of these guidelines and over the next six weeks NICE will work with breast cancer patients and representative organisations, including feedback from Campaign, to ensure the final recommendations best represent women with a family history of breast cancer and have the biggest positive impact on their quality of life.