Breast cancer myths: What’s fact and what’s fiction
Even though most people are aware of breast cancer – many of us know someone who’s had it or been affected by it – there are common misconceptions. Medical oncologist Joe Stephenson, MD, debunked some common breast cancer myths.
Myth: Deodorant causes breast cancer.
“This myth has been thoroughly studied,” Dr. Stephenson said. “It makes a little sense in terms of where you’re using deodorant and its proximity to the breast, but there’s no evidence to suggest there’s a relationship between the use of deodorant and breast cancer. Studies have looked at breast tissue from breast cancer patients and there’s no difference in the amount of aluminum within normal breast tissue as compared to breast tissue that has cancer in it. So, there’s no evidence to suggest that using aluminum-based products for deodorant leads to an increased risk of breast cancer.”
Myth: I don’t have a family history of breast cancer so I’m not at risk for the disease.
Only about 5–7% of patients who have breast cancer have a genetic familial cause of breast cancer. Most women who develop breast cancer – about 90% – have no family history or no genetic, identifiable family history.
One in eight women will develop breast cancer throughout their lifetime, which is why it’s important to be screened.
Myth: Men cannot develop breast cancer.
Although rare, men can develop breast cancer. About 2,800 men will develop breast cancer this year and 530 men will die from the disease. Put another way, 1 in 100 newly diagnosed breast cancers will be male.
Sometimes male breast cancer is associated with certain syndromes, such as Klinefelter syndrome where boys are born with an extra X chromosome. Men with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation also have a higher risk of breast cancer. Certain diseases of the liver, like cirrhosis, can predispose men to breast cancer. Heavy drinking of alcoholic beverages and obesity also contribute to the risk of breast cancer, male or female.
Any breast abnormality in a man, such as a knot on the chest, should be evaluated by a primary care physician to make sure it’s not breast cancer.
Myth: You can’t receive an IV in the same arm as your lymph node dissection.
“There is a prevailing myth that the side of the lymph node dissection for breast cancer surgery can never be used for any type of access or blood draw because it may precipitate lymphedema,” said Dr. Stephenson. “Historically, we used to take out multiple lymph nodes as part of the bigger surgical techniques that we were using in the 1960s and 70s. The techniques we use today, generally, are very limited lymph node dissections, so there’s less risk associated with that. If circumstances warrant needing to use the arm for IV sticks, it is perfectly okay to do so.”
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