Breast cancer is a scary disease. It’s also a disease with no single known cause; and no surefire prevention methods. It’s no wonder that, over the years, lots of myths about what might cause breast cancer have grown up, especially since the advent of the internet. Here are some of the most common “causes” of breast cancer you might hear repeated: none of them is true.
This long-held theory goes that when a woman uses deodorant, parabens (chemical preservatives) in the antiperspirant are absorbed through shaving nicks under the arm. These collect in the lymph nodes, become toxic, and cause breast cancer.
Multiple studies have been done, and there’s no evidence to support deodorants – or antiperspirants – causing breast cancer.
“Yes u can get breast cancer form getting hit in the boobs,” wrote one of the readers on our Q & A site recently. This common myth may have started due to traumatic breast injuries sometimes causing false-positive mammogram readings: scar tissue can look like a tumor on an X-ray.
The reality? While a punch, kick, or any blow to the breast may be painful, cause swelling, and result in scar tissue (which may feel like a lump), physical injury doesn’t cause breast cancer.
The theory that women who’ve had an abortion are more likely to develop breast cancer gained credence several years ago, perhaps due to publicity given it by various right-to-life advocates.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently did a meta-analysis of fifteen separate studies involving abortion and breast cancer, stretching through April 2014. None of these studies show any evidence supporting this theory.
Wearing a bra, especially an underwire bra
Some people think that bras, especially underwire bras, can block lymph fluid from draining out of the breast, thus allowing toxins to build up and eventually cause cancer.
No aspect of wearing a bra – whether sports or underwire, the amount of time worn daily, cup size, or the age at which bra wearing commenced – has any connection to breast cancer.
Read this National Institutes of Health study for more on bras and breast cancer.
Breast implants may make it harder to detect existing breast cancer, due to their susceptibility to blocking cancerous tissue from being seen on a mammogram. But up until 2017, research suggested that there was little to no evidence that the implants themselves, whether saline or silicone, caused breast cancer.
In fact, some studies showed that women with implants actually have a lower incidence of breast cancer. This isn’t thought to be due to the implants themselves, however; but to the fact that most women with implants are thin – and being thin lowers breast cancer risk.
However, in February 2017, the FDA recieved reports of a rare cancer, known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma, that linked the cancer to breast implants. In the cases under investigation, the cancer was reported growing in the scar tissue that develops around an implant. Women are advised to be aware of the problem, but due to the rarity of the cancer, more research is going into what else may have contributed to the cancer cases.
Read what Komen for the Cure says about implants and breast cancer.
It’s been shown that caffeine can increase the effects of fibrocystic change, a condition that results in painful lumps and cysts in the breast.
But studies involving caffeine as a possible cause of breast cancer have actually come up with the opposite result: it appears caffeine may reduce the risk of breast cancer. That said, researchers are quick to point out that additional studies are needed before women start drinking a daily cup of coffee to lower their breast cancer risk.
So, what’s been proven to increase your risk of breast cancer?
There are three significant lifestyle choices researchers have identified that increase breast cancer risk. These are aspects of your behavior you can choose to control – as opposed to genetic risk, growing older, and other risk factors you can’t change. They include the following:
•Alcohol consumption, particularly binge drinking.
•Being overweight after menopause, especially gaining 20 or more pounds post-menopause.
•Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at more than a minimal dose, and for longer than 2 years.
You might as well quit worrying about wearing deodorant or an underwire bra; and don’t bother skipping that morning stop at Starbucks. Instead, control weight gain by eating a healthy diet and exercising; and limit alcohol consumption to a maximum of one drink a day. Reducing risk, even if you can’t eliminate it, is a worthy goal.
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PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.