Can being hit in the breast cause cancer? Do deodorants raise your risk? Is there a link between breast cancer and bras?
If you’ve ever performed a quick Google search about the causes of breast cancer, you may have come across a variety of claims about what increases your risk of the disease. Some of these so-called ‘facts’ are myths or misunderstandings that are not backed by scientific evidence.
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we dispel 10 of the most common breast cancer myths.
Myth 1: an injury to the breast can cause cancer
An injury, such as falling or being hit in the chest, will not cause breast cancer. It may cause bruising and swelling to the breast, which can be tender or painful to touch.
Sometimes an injury can lead to a benign (not cancer) lump known as fat necrosis. This is scar tissue that can form when the body naturally repairs the damaged fatty breast tissue.
Myth 2: most breast cancer runs in the family
Most cases of breast cancer happen by chance and not because of a family history. Only around 5% of breast cancers are caused by inheriting an altered gene.
Because breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, it’s not unusual to have one or two people in an extended family who have had breast cancer. For most people, having a relative with breast cancer doesn’t increase their risk of developing the disease.
If you’re worried about your family history, you can speak to your GP or call our Helpline.
Myth 3: using deodorants causes breast cancer
There's no conclusive evidence that deodorants and antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
Some people worry that deodorants and antiperspirants stop the body from sweating out toxins, which then build up in the lymph glands under the armpit, causing breast cancer. However, our bodies have several ways of getting rid of toxins and, while sweating is one of them, it doesn’t involve the lymph glands.
There’s also no conclusive evidence that ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants – such as aluminium or chemicals called parabens – cause breast cancer.
Myth 4: underwire bras cause cancer
Underwire bras don’t increase your risk of breast cancer.
There have been some concerns that the wires in the cup of the bra may restrict the flow of lymph fluid in the breast causing toxins to build up in the area. However, once again there’s no reliable evidence to support this.
If your bra is too tight or too small, the wires can dig into your breasts and cause discomfort, pain or swelling. Find out more about wearing a well-fitting bra.
Myth 5: men can’t get breast cancer because they don’t have breasts
Men can get breast cancer. Many people don’t think of men as having breasts. In fact both men and women have breast tissue, although men have much smaller amounts than women.
Around 390 men are diagnosed each year in the UK (compared to nearly 62,000 women). Most men who get breast cancer are over 60, although younger men can be affected.
Myth 6: stress causes breast cancer
There’s no conclusive evidence that stress increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
When we’re under stress, our lifestyle behaviours may change. For example, we might overeat and drink more alcohol. Being overweight and drinking too much alcohol both increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
If you’re feeling stressed, talk to your GP or practice nurse about how you might reduce your stress levels.
Myth 7: the first sign of breast cancer is always a lump
A lump is only one of several possible symptoms of breast cancer and not everyone with breast cancer has a noticeable lump.
It’s important to look at and feel your breasts regularly so you know what’s normal for you, and to tell your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any changes. Most breast changes are likely to be normal or due to a benign (not cancer) breast condition, but it’s still important to get them checked.
Myth 8: drinking warm water from a plastic bottle causes cancer
Drinking warm bottled water doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer.
Some people worry that warming (or freezing) plastic bottles or food containers releases a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) which can interact with our hormones and cause breast cancer.
It’s true that if a plastic bottle or container is exposed to extremely high temperatures, chemicals such as BPA in the plastic are released into the water or food product inside. But the amount released would still be within safe limits and would not cause any harm.
Research has shown that BPA consumed at current levels is not a health concern.
Myth 9: mobile phones cause breast cancer
Some people worry that radio waves produced and received by mobile phones may be a health risk, especially if they keep their phone in their breast pocket. These radio waves are a type of low-energy, non-ionising radiation. This type of radiation also includes visible light, ultraviolet (UV) and infrared radiation.
While it’s not possible to isolate any one factor as a cause of breast cancer, there’s currently no evidence that radio waves from mobile phones cause breast cancer or increase the risk of developing it.
Myth 10: having your nipple pierced increases the risk of breast cancer
Nipple piercings have become a popular trend. But there’s currently no evidence that having pierced nipples increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer. However, the area pierced is at risk of infection, at the time of the piercing and as long as you wear the jewellery, possibly even longer.