PUBLISHED: 6:12 PM on Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The truth about breast cancer and how it progresses if not detected
Here are 10 myths about breast cancer and the truth that can protect you.

Myth: Underwire bras will cause cancer.

Reality: Despite rumors, there are no scientifically valid studies linking wearing bras to any type to breast cancer. This myth appears to be based on the writings of a husband and wife team of medical anthropologists who suggested this association in a book called "Dressed to Kill." According to the American Cancer Society, the couple's study was not conducted according to standard principles of epidemiological research and did not take into consideration other variables, including known risk factors for breast cancer.

Myth: Breast-feeding causes cancer.

Reality: It doesn't. In fact, some preliminary studies say breast-feeding may decrease a woman's risk of breast cancer. However, this data has not been confirmed, and women who breast-feed can still get breast cancer.

Myth: Breast cancer always presents itself in the form of a lump.

Reality: While a breast lump can certainly be a sign of breast cancer, not all women who are diagnosed with breast cancer will have a noticeable lump.

Here are the warning signs to look for while performing monthly breast self-exams:

• Any new lump or hard knot found in the breast or armpit.

• Any lump or thickening that does not shrink or lessen after your next period.

• Any change in size, shape or symmetry of your breast.

• A thickening or swelling of the breast.

• Any dimpling, puckering or indention in the breast.

• Dimpling, skin irritation or other change in the breast skin or nipple.

• Redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin.

• Nipple discharge (fluid other than breast milk), particularly if the discharge is bloody, clear and sticky, dark or occurs without squeezing your nipple.

• Nipple tenderness or pain.

• Nipple retraction: turning or drawing inward or pointing in a new direction.

Myth: Mastectomy ensures breast cancer will be eliminated forever.

Reality: Actress Christina Applegate, 36, made recent headlines after electing to undergo a preventative double mastectomy and claims to be "absolutely 100 percent clear and clean" of cancer. However, mastectomy (removal of a breast) does not guarantee that breast cancer will not recur. Some women experience recurrence at the site of the mastectomy scar. There is also the possibility that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body. Many women who have a mastectomy also opt to have their underarm lymph nodes removed to ensure that the cancer has not spread beyond the breast.

Breast tissue also extends up toward the neck, under the arms, and to the chest wall. A woman is at risk of developing breast cancer as long as breast tissue remains in the body.

Myth: A mammogram can cause breast cancer.

Reality: A mammogram is a safe procedure that uses extremely low levels of radiation to create detailed images of the breast.

Myth: Mammography is 100 percent accurate in early breast cancer detection.

Reality: Mammography is considered the gold standard for breast cancer detection. Unfortunately, it cannot detect all cases. Mammography is generally considered to be about 80 percent effective at detecting breast cancer.

Myth: All breast lumps are cancerous.

Reality: Eighty percent of lumps are caused by non-cancerous changes in the breast. However, since the number of lumps increases with age, it is important for women to report any breast abnormality to their physician, especially if the lump persists beyond two menstrual cycles.

Myth: Women with small breasts are less likely to get breast cancer.

Reality: Risk of breast cancer is unrelated to cup size. The amount of breast tissue a woman has does not lessen or increase her chances of developing breast cancer.

Myth: Men can't get breast cancer.

Reality: Though breast cancer in men is rare, the Komen Foundation predicts 1,990 new cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year; 18,460 women will be diagnosed with the disease. In 2004, the overall incidence of breast cancer in men was 1.4 per 100,000 compared to 124 per 100,000 women.

Myth: Pregnant women cannot get breast cancer.

Reality: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in pregnant and postpartum women, affecting one expectant mother for every 3,000 pregnancies. Lump detection may be hindered by the natural tenderness and enlargement of the breasts during and immediately after pregnancy.

It is important for pregnant and lactating women to practice monthly breast self-examination and to have clinical breast exams as part of a routine prenatal examination.

Myth: Antiperspirants or deodorants cause breast cancer.

Reality: According to the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is not any conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the development of breast cancer.

One in nine women will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes. Fortunately, the majority will survive. The 20-year death rate is down slightly, probably because of early detection and improved treatment.

First abnormal cells

• The leading risk factors for breast cancer are simply being female and getting older. Average age at diagnosis is 62. About three of every four women diagnosed are 50 or older.

• About 70 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors. The following increase risk:

• Previous breast cancer, or certain benign breast problems.

• Sister, mother or daughter had breast cancer.

(Only 5 percent to 10 percent of cases are inherited.)

• Childless or had first child after age 30.

• Menstruation before age 12 or after age 50.

Breast cancer begins in the lobules that produce milk and ducts that channel it to the nipples. It appears first as a few abnormal cells. If untreated, the cancerous cells spread to the woman's lymph system, through which they can spread to other organs.

Sources:,, and Komen for the Cure