Monday, October 4, 2010

Breast Cancer Myths

As I'm sure you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. People all over the country are gearing up to walk to raise money for a cure, sharing survivor stories, or paying homage to those who lost their battles with breast cancer.

Also, around this time every year, emails begin circulating (even more than usual) about things that will cause or prevent breast cancer. Research has proved many of these to be myths, yet many are unaware of this and continue to spread misinformation. Here are a few common myths and the truth of the matter. Click the links below for even more breast cancer misconceptions.

Myth: Only women with a family history of breast cancer are at risk.
Reality: Roughly 70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors for the disease. But the family-history risks are these: If a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) has had or has breast cancer, your risk of developing the disease approximately doubles. Having two first-degree relatives with the disease increases your risk even more.

Myth: Wearing an underwire bra increases your risk of getting breast cancer.
Reality: Claims that underwire bras compress the lymphatic system of the breast, causing toxins to accumulate and cause breast cancer, have been widely debunked as unscientific. The consensus is that neither the type of bra you wear nor the tightness of your underwear or other clothing has any connection to breast cancer risk.

Myth: Wearing antiperspirant increases your risk of getting breast cancer.
Reality: The American Cancer Society pooh-poohs this rumor, but admits that more research is needed. One small study did stumble on traces of parabens in a tiny sample of breast cancer tumors. Parabens, used as preservatives in some antiperspirants, have weak estrogen-like properties, but the study in question made no cause-and-effect connection between parabens and breast cancer, nor did it conclusively identify the source of the parabens found in tumors.

Myth: Annual mammograms expose you to so much radiation that they increase your risk of cancer.
Reality: While it's true that radiation is used in mammography, the amount is so small that any associated risks are tiny when compared to the huge preventive benefits reaped from the test. Mammograms can detect lumps well before they can be felt or otherwise noticed, and the earlier that lumps are caught, the better one's chances for survival. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women age 40 and older receive a screening mammogram every year.

Myth: Hair straighteners cause breast cancer in African-American women.
Reality: A large 2007 study funded by the National Cancer Institute found no increase in breast cancer risk due to the use of hair straighteners or relaxers. Study participants included African-American women who had used straighteners seven or more times a year for 20 years or longer.

Myth: Overweight women have the same breast cancer risk as other women.
Reality: Being overweight or obese does increase your breast cancer risk—especially if you're past menopause and/or you gained the weight later in life.

Myth: I’m too young to worry about breast cancer.
Reality: While it’s true that your breast cancer risk increases as you get older, the fact is that women of all ages are at risk for developing breast cancer.

Myth: Birth control pills cause breast cancer.
Reality: Doctors say the evidence isn't strong enough for them to recommend that women stop taking birth control pills to avoid breast cancer.
Some studies from the mid '90s showed that birth control users had a slightly increased risk, but researchers caution that pill formulations have changed since then (most contain much lower doses of the hormones linked to breast cancer risk).
This research also found that the risk returned to normal 10 years after women stopped taking the pills. Some research suggests that risk may depend on ethnicity or age (African-Americans and those who take pills after age 45 have a slightly increased risk), while other studies found no association between pills and cancer whatsoever. "This suggests that birth control–related breast cancer risk may not be the same for all women," says Susan Love, MD, a breast cancer surgeon and founder of the Army of Women, "which is why we need the Army of Women to help figure out whether subgroups have different risks."

Myth: Drinking from a plastic water bottle left in a hot car can cause cancer.
Fact: This rumor falsely claims that dioxins—a group of toxic chemicals associated with an array of health problems, including breast cancer—leach from the heated plastic into the water.
Plastics do not contain dioxins, and the sun's rays are not strong enough to create them, says Michael Trush, PhD, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Urban Environmental Health. Most single-use beverage bottles sold in the United States are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a substance tested extensively for safety.
There is some evidence that heat can cause bisphenol A (BPA), a compound that's been shown to have estrogenic effects in animal studies, to leach from plastic bottles into the water. (The "estrogenic effects" are thought to impact cancer risk.) However, most single-use water bottles sold in the United States are made from BPA-free plastic. And there's no proven link to breast cancer in women anyway. To be safe, drink from a reusable plastic bottle labeled "BPA free," or choose water bottles with a "1," "2," "4," or "5" in the recycling symbol on the bottom.


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