Busting breast myths

The topic of breast health can incite passionate response and heated speculation. Like the millions of social media posts filled with UPPERCASE WARNINGS!!! and emotional pleas to "Please share this with every woman you know."

The intention of most of these posts 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, 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. However, phthalates are only found in bottle caps and the risk of this leaching into your water is negligible. Regardless, be sure to clean and dry plastic water bottles properly if you decide to reuse them.
  • 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. Overall, drinking coffee does not increase your risk of breast cancer. In fact, some studies show that postmenopausal women who drink coffee may have a lower risk of breast cancer. Nonetheless, this relationship 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. The risks are also increased if you have had a history of breast cancer yourself, or if a close family relative had breast cancer. However, the increased risk disappears after stopping birth control pills. It's best to discuss your personal risk of breast cancer with your doctor before starting birth control
  • 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.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2023. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Breast-Health

Breast self-examinations: the controversies

In the early 2000s, the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, which represents physicians in Canada, published the results of a study that came to the conclusion that regular breast self-exam (BSE) by women does not reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer.

This unleashed a storm of anger from breast cancer survivors and doctors alike. The American and Canadian Cancer Societies had been recommending monthly BSE for women since the early 1950s! Many breast cancer survivors had discovered their cancer themselves and gave vigilance with BSE as the reason that they were still alive. Nevertheless, the Canadian Cancer Society stopped recommending monthly breast self-examination.

The report that garnered so much attention had analyzed many studies related to BSE and death due to breast cancer – this is called a meta-analysis – and discovered that although BSE appears to be a simple and low-cost method of catching cancer early, it is not. It is difficult to learn to do well and to perform consistently. There was also some evidence that it caused more medical interventions when a non-malignant "lump" was discovered and investigated. It was reasoned that this would lead to an increased cost burden to the health care system and needless worry by women without a corresponding benefit in saved lives.

Given this controversy, what are the latest guidelines? The current consensus appears to be that while women should become familiar with their breasts, monitor their breasts regularly and look for signs of cancer, breast self-examinations are not generally recommended as more recent studies fail to show that they save women’s lives.


Mammograms are low-dose X-rays of the breast that are used to detect breast cancer. Mammograms are used for screening and diagnostic purposes. Screening mammograms look for breast cancer signs that may be developing, even if you are not experiencing symptoms. Diagnostic mammograms are used if you have a lump in your breast or other symptom that needs further investigation.

The controversy over mammograms is focused on whether regular screening mammograms should be recommended for women under the age of 50. For women over 50, there is general consensus in the medical community that regular screening mammograms after menopause find breast cancers at an early stage, when treatment is most likely to be successful. However, mammograms done in younger women can lead to overdiagnosis, where harmless forms of breast cancers are found and unnecessarily treated, as well as false positive tests.

So what's a girl to do?
In Canada, the consensus is that most women between 50 and 74 should have a mammogram every 2 to 3 years to screen for breast cancer, and that this practice saves lives.

Women at higher risk for breast cancer may consider starting earlier. It's best to talk to your doctor about when to start getting regular mammograms.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2023. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Breast-Health

Breast lumps

"Oh no, is that a lump?" When you feel something out of the ordinary in your breast, it's natural to feel worried. "Could it be breast cancer?" you wonder, your mind racing.

Relax. It's probably not breast cancer. In fact, 80% of breast lumps turn out to be benign and cancer-free. Let's review a few of the more likely lump suspects.

Cysts: Soft grapes – that's how breast cysts are often described. Or they're compared to small, inflated water balloons. If you find these small oval masses in your breast, you will know it is a cyst if it moves easily. Linked to cyclically fluctuating hormones, cysts tend to grow right before a woman's period and shrink right after. Simple cysts are those are filled with fluid, whereas complex cysts are those that are filled with both fluid and solid components.

Cysts may hurt or feel tender, but they are often benign. Although simple cysts do not increase your risk of breast cancer, complex cysts have a small chance of containing cancer or can put you at risk of cancer and may need to checked with a biopsy. Cysts usually don’t require any treatment unless they are large, painful, or bothersome, in which case draining the cyst of fluid will help. Wear a well-fitted, supportive bra to lessen pain. Some women find avoiding caffeine and salt helps relieve symptoms.

Fibroadenoma: You may have fibroadenomas and not even know it. These firm, smooth, rubbery, non-cancerous tumours tend to be only about a centimetre or so in diameter, but they can be larger. If you put pressure on it, a fibroadenoma may feel like a marble. Like cysts, these round masses move around easily in the breast and can be influenced by the ebb and flow of a woman's reproductive hormones.

Most fibroadenomas do not increase your breast cancer risk, although larger, complex fibroadenomas can lead to a slight increase in risk. Doctors may recommend surgery to remove fibroadenomas, a procedure called a lumpectomy.

Fibrocystic changes: When cysts appear along with other breast tissue changes – pain and tenderness and tissue that feels lumpy, thick, fibrous, and scar-like – a woman has what are called fibrocystic breasts. Fibrocystic changes are very common – many women experience these changes at one point or another throughout their lives, particularly between 30 and 50 years of age. These common changes are believed to be linked to a woman's menstrual cycle and the fluctuations of hormones that accompany it. That explains why the changes tend to taper off after menopause.

Fibrocystic changes sometimes cause pain and tenderness and may lead to a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer. Occasionally, fibrocystic changes make it more difficult to diagnose lumps on mammograms. As with breast cysts, fibrocystic breast symptoms may be reduced by wearing a supportive bra to lessen pain and by cutting back on or eliminating caffeine.

Lipoma: This type of little lump is a collection of fatty tissue can happen anywhere in the body and sometimes grows beneath the skin of the breast. Flat, soft, and doughy, a lipoma will move when you push it with your finger. They are non-cancerous, tend to be genetic, and cause no problems unless they grow large enough to impinge on a nerve that happens to be close by. If a lipoma causes pain, you may choose to have it removed. Less often, a woman may develop painful, immovable lipoma-like tumours – called liposarcomas – that can be cancerous.

Milk duct issues: Women who have recently given birth or are breast-feeding may note many changes to their breasts. From time to time, a lump can develop. In the case of milk cysts, a duct channelling milk through the breast has become closed and blocked. Breast infections, or mastitis, can occur in women who are breast-feeding.

For women who haven’t recently given birth or are not breast-feeding, a small growth inside of the milk duct on the areola (the area surrounding the nipple) may be an intraductal papilloma, a non-cancerous, often painless bump that may be accompanied by clear or blood-stained discharge from the nipple. Other types of nipple discharge can indicate breast cancer, so it is important to ask your doctor to check this symptom.

You should also consider that an injury to the breast can cause a pooling of blood that may feel like a lump. All that said, any lump or bump that you find in your breast should be examined by a doctor in order to rule out cancer. You should seek medical attention if...

  • the skin on your breast appears red, crusty, dimpled, or puckered
  • a lump is new or feels different from surrounding tissue
  • the lump is still there after your next period
  • the lump has grown or become more firm or defined
  • you have nipple changes, including sticky or bloody discharge or inversion of the nipple (this is not a concern if your nipple has always been inverted)

Your doctor will likely ask you some questions and thoroughly examine your breasts to look for any abnormalities. If anything seems off, your doctor may order further tests, which could include imaging like a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI, or an extraction of breast tissue (biopsy) or fluid (fine-needle aspiration).

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2023. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Breast-Health