Myths about Breast Cancer

Risk of Breast Cancer—The Myths

What is your risk of breast cancer? Which breast cancer treatment is right for you? What about antiperspirants and breast cancer?

What you don’t know CAN hurt you. Arm yourself with the facts. Don’t let misinformation keep you from recognizing and minimizing your own risk of breast cancer OR getting the very best possible care. Here are ten common myths about breast cancer, followed by myths about specific types of breast cancer treatment.

1. Breast cancer only affects older women


While it’s true that the risk of breast cancer increases as we grow older, breast cancer can occur at any age. From birth to age 39, one woman in 231 will get breast cancer (<0.5% risk), from age 40–59, the chance is one in 25 (4% risk), from age 60–79, the chance is one in 15 (nearly 7%). And the chance of getting breast cancer over the course of an entire lifetime, assuming you live to age 90, is one in 8, with an overall lifetime risk of 12.5%.

2. If you have a risk factor for breast cancer, you’re likely to get the disease.


Getting breast cancer is not a certainty, even if you have one of the stronger risk factors, like a breast cancer gene abnormality. Of women with a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 inherited genetic abnormality, 40–80% will develop breast cancer over their lifetime; 20–60% won’t. All other risk factors are associated with a much lower probability of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

3. If breast cancer doesn’t run in your family, you won’t get it.


Every woman has some risk of breast cancer. About 80% of women who get breast cancer have no known family history of the disease. Increasing age – just the wear and tear of living – is the biggest single risk factor for breast cancer. For those women who do have a family history of breast cancer, your risk may be elevated a little, a lot, or not at all. If you are concerned, discuss your family history with your physician or a genetic counselor. You may be worrying needlessly.

4. Only your mother’s family history of breast cancer can affect your risk.


A history of breast cancer in your mother’s OR your father’s family will influence your risk equally. That’s because half of your genes come from your mother, half from your father. But a man with a breast cancer gene abnormality is less likely to develop breast cancer than a woman with a similar gene. So, if you want to learn more about your father’s family history, you have to look mainly at the women on your father’s side, not just the men.

5. Using antiperspirants causes breast cancer.


There is no proven impact on breast cancer risk from either reducing the amount of perspiration from your underarm area, or the active ingredient in antiperspirants. Much of the “explanation” given for this supposed connection is based on misinformation about anatomy and misunderstanding of breast cancer.