Breast cancer myths and facts

There is a lot of information about breast cancer online, in the community, and passed on from friends and family that is simply untrue. Despite a lack of evidence, some breast cancer myths receive a lot of media attention which can cause confusion. Thanks to breast cancer research we can help you work out myth from fact about the causes of breast cancer.

Lump in the breast

Most breast lumps are benign, which means they are not cancerous. Benign lumps can be cysts (lumps or sacs filled with fluid or other material) or they can be due to normal breast changes associated with hormonal changes and ageing. Remember, if you notice a change or something unusual in one of your breasts, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Male breast cancer

Men can also develop breast cancer, although it is very rare, accounting for just one per cent of breast cancer cases in Australia.

Breast cancer ‘cure’

Breast cancer is not one disease, but a complex group of different types of tumours. Thanks to research, we now know that at a molecular level tumours act and respond to treatments differently, so a one-size-fits-all treatment or single breakthrough won’t be applicable to all types of breast cancer. Researchers are looking for the answers to all known subtypes of breast cancer.

Bumping or bruising the breast

There is no evidence that an injury can cause breast cancer, but it might draw attention to an existing lump.

Wearing an underwire bra

There is no proof that wearing an underwire or tight-fitting bra increases your risk of breast cancer. A recent study in 2014 of more than 1,500 women found no association between wearing a bra and breast cancer risk. Wearing bras that don’t fit right can cause discomfort in the breast and/or back.

Underarm antiperspirants 

This common myth about breast cancer stems from an email rumour circulating some years ago that claimed the chemicals in antiperspirants cause breast cancer by leading to a build-up of toxins in the lymph glands under the arm. There is no conclusive evidence to support this. The American Cancer Society says a large study published in 2002 found no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant or deodorant use, or underarm shaving.

Abortion or miscarriage 

Research has shown there is no link between termination of pregnancy – whether abortion or miscarriage – and an increased risk of breast cancer.

Breastfeeding 

Research has shown that pregnancy and breastfeeding provides long-term protection for women from breast cancer, even into their 60s and 70s. There is no link between not breastfeeding and breast cancer, but the more months spent breastfeeding, the lower your risk of developing the disease, especially if you breastfeed for longer than 12 months.

Fertility treatment

Women who have fertility treatment have a slightly increased risk of some types of cancer. But women who are infertile are known to have a higher risk of breast, ovarian and womb cancers. So it is unclear whether the cancers are related to infertility rather than the IVF treatment. A large 2016 Dutch study found that women who had IVF treatments had no higher risk of breast cancer than women who had less intensive fertility treatments and had about the same risk of breast cancer as the average women. Taking the current body of research into account, doctors currently recommend that women who are infertile can safely have infertility treatment.

Breast implants 

Several studies have found that breast implants do not increase the risk of breast cancer, although silicone breast implants can cause scar tissue to form in the breast. Implants can make breast tissue harder to see on standard mammograms, but additional x-ray pictures called implant displacement views can be used to examine the breast tissue more completely.