Breast Cancer Myths - What’s True & What Isn't (Episode I)

Mythbusters Diaries (Part 9): Breast Cancer Myths – What’s True & What Isn’t (Episode I)

Young woman holding pink card against pink awareness ribbon
Contributed by: Rachana Arya


There are many misconceptions associated with breast cancer — and these myths often spread misinformation, fueling social stigma. It can also stop most women from getting diagnosed and getting the proper treatment. In this edition of Mythbusters Diaries, we tackle the most common taboo and misunderstandings that surround this disease.


Myth #1: A lump in the breast indicated breast cancer


Every lump in the breast does not necessarily equate to breast cancer, and every instance of breast cancer does not necessarily feature a lump either. In fact, most breast cancers do not cause lumps in their early stages. Most breast lumps are caused by benign (noncancerous) changes, cysts (which occur most often in women aged 35-50 and women undergoing menopause), or breast abscesses (a sore lump accompanied by fever and tiredness) other conditions like fluctuating hormone levels, especially during times of menstruation and breastfeeding. 

Take Action:  

It’s important for you to be aware of how your breasts normally look and feel, and know what changes to look for. As always, any single lump in the breast/s should be fully explored by a healthcare provider. If you find a lump that feels harder or different from the rest of the breast (or the other breast), or changes over time or see changes in your breast, schedule a clinical breast exam to determine if this lump is of concern or not. 


Myth #2: Breast pain is a sign of cancer


Most breast cancers usually do NOT cause pain in the breast. Pain is usually is a late symptom and when it occurs, the growth is often far advanced. There are several other harmless causes for breast pain and tenderness that are related primarily to changes in hormone levels. These can include:

  • Puberty 
  • Menopause
  • A breast abscess (an infection inside of the breast, similar to a boil)
  • A benign cyst
  • Fibrocystic breast tissues
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Pregnancy – mostly in the first trimester
  • Breast Mastitis (an infection of the tissue of the breast that occurs most frequently during breastfeeding)

Take Action:

Although cancerous tumors are not reported as painful, it is recommended that if you have breast pain that is severe or persists, you should be checked by your doctor.


Myth #3: Women without a family history of breast cancer aren’t at risk


Breast cancer isn’t merely a hereditary condition. In truth, a huge percentage of breast cancers are not passed down the generations. Many patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any family history of the disease. Only around 5-10% of people diagnosed with breast cancer had a family history of the disease. There are several other risk factors, such as a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, smoking, and alcohol consumption that contribute to a person developing breast cancer. But the biggest risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and growing older.

Take Action:

Reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by making lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. If you’re concerned about your family’s breast cancer history, it is important to regularly self-examine yourself and schedule regular screenings with your health provider.


Myth #4:  Breast cancer occurs only in post-menopausal women


Not necessarily. While it is true that breast cancer is more likely to occur in a woman older than 35, but it can occur in very young women.  Breast cancer in young women is more likely to be diagnosed in its later stages and to be more aggressive. Young women also have a higher death rate and a greater probability of metastatic recurrence (breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body).

Take Action:

Being breast-aware is very important. Women of all ages must be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and if you notice a change, you should see your doctor immediately. Because breast cancer can happen to anyone, irrespective of age, so it is necessary for women of all ages to get screened for breast cancer. Any lump found at any age needs professional evaluation by a doctor.


Myth #5: Stress fuels the development of breast cancer


Not Really. There’s no conclusive evidence linking the two. Not everyone who has stress gets sick. Women who reported frequent or continuous stress have about the same risk of breast cancer as women who have occasional or no stress. It’s how you cope with or manage the stress that could have an impact on your health. However, some things can affect cancer risk like: 

  • Smoking when you are stressed
  • Eat more, or eating differently when you are stressed
  • Consuming alcohol when you are stressed or drinking more than you usually would
  • Doing less physical activity when you are stressed

Take Action:

It’s unreasonable to believe that we can entirely escape stress. At some point in their lives, everyone feels pressured. Long durations of stress, on the other hand, can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as well as physical health problems digestive problems, fertility problems, urinary problems, and a weakened immune system. As a result, it makes sense to adopt healthier coping mechanisms, such as learning stress-management techniques, taking the time to eat healthily. To wrap up, women of all ages need to take charge of their breasts, perform routine breast self-exams, get an annual clinical breast exam, and report any unusual changes to their doctors — and insist that the probability be ruled out if there’s a concerning symptom. Yes, breast cancer is undoubtedly a terrifying subject, but its survivors come down to one simple word: hope. and exercising more.


Closing thoughts

To wrap up, women of all ages need to take charge of their breasts, perform routine breast self-exams, get an annual clinical breast exam, and report any unusual changes to their doctors — and insist that the probability be ruled out if there’s a concerning symptom. Yes, breast cancer is undoubtedly a terrifying subject, but its survivors come down to one simple word: HOPE!


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