The topic of breast health can incite passionate response and heated speculation. Like the millions of forwarded emails filled with UPPERCASE WARNINGS!!! and emotional pleas to "Please send this to every woman you know."
The intention of most of these emails is good - to spread the word of potential threats of breast cancer. But how many of them are true, and how many are myths just waiting to be busted?
- Wearing a bra causes breast cancer. Myth. The thought behind this one goes that a bra - especially one with underwire - constricts the flow of a woman's lymphatic fluid and lets all the bad toxins accumulate in the breasts. But lymphatic fluid does not flow out of the breast like sweat. Rather, it drains back toward the chest wall and armpits. So, while a well-fitted bra can offer support, no scientific support exists for this myth.
- Antiperspirants cause breast cancer. Myth. Using similar logic to those who propagated the bra-breast cancer link, some believed that by not allowing you to sweat that antiperspirants caused an accumulation of toxins in and around the breasts and underarm area. It was then asserted that this toxic build-up could trigger breast cancer. A further caveat attached to this myth said that a woman increased her risk if she applied antiperspirant right after shaving her underarms, that somehow the nicks and cuts from a razor would give the toxic chemicals easier access to the body. None of this is true, though. Researchers examined the shave-and-sweat-proofing habits of hundreds of women - some with breast cancer and some without - and noted no significant difference. Also, sweat first and foremost works to cools your body, not to flush toxins. There is no conclusive evidence that antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
- Freezing or heating water bottles could give you breast cancer. Myth. This got started when someone erroneously reported that dioxins were used to make plastic bottles and could leach into food or drinks. In the first place, plastic bottles do not contain dioxins. And even if dioxins, a toxic chemical, were to be found in plastic bottles - which, again, they are not - freezing would actually make it harder for the chemicals to be dispersed into the contents of the bottle. This warning may have sprung up from the justified concern over heating plastics. Phthalates, another class of chemicals used to make some types of plastic more flexible, have been found to be a hormone disrupter and could find their way into foods when those types of plastic are heated. To be on the safe side, opt for plastic products designed to be microwaved, or use ceramic or glass bottles.
- Drinking coffee increases breast cancer risk. Unclear. Caffeine has been questioned over the years as a possible cause of all sorts of conditions and diseases. One possible reason that caffeine gets "lumped" together with breast cancer is because of a purported (but not fully proven) relationship between caffeine and fibrocystic breast condition. In this condition, women experience benign breast cysts, lumps, tenderness, and pain that have nothing to do with breast cancer risk. For some women, reducing caffeine consumption has reduced symptom occurrence. Studies on whether caffeine increases breast cancer risk have shown conflicting and inconsistent results, and it is still a topic of controversy among health care professionals.
- Birth control pills increase breast cancer risk. True. Speculation about oral contraceptives is natural, since they contain estrogen and progesterone, two hormones often associated with breast cancer risk. Taking birth control pills causes a small increase in risk of breast cancer, especially if a woman has been taking them for 10 or more years. However, the increased risk disappears after stopping birth control pills. If you are concerned, it’s best to discuss your personal risk of breast cancer with your doctor.
- Breast implants can cause breast cancer. Myth. On the one hand, no scientific link has been found between silicone or saline breast implants and breast cancer. On the other hand, the pumped-up implants can hide evidence of cancer from mammograms, making diagnosis of breast cancer more difficult. Women with implants may need to undergo special, additional screening to detect and properly interpret signs of breast cancer.
- Women who breast-feed are protected against breast cancer. True... to a point. Giving birth reduces a woman's breast cancer risk, and the longer she breast-feeds the more she is protected. That does not mean that women who breast-feed cannot get breast cancer.