About 1 in 16 Singaporean women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime – making it the most common type of cancer among women in Singapore. Although the exact cause isn’t clear, researchers have found that hormonal, genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors may affect your risk of breast cancer. However, there are some women who have no risk factors that develop this cancer and others who are considered high-risk yet never do.
Breast cancer symptoms also vary widely. Many patients often discover a lump in their breast, caused by an accumulation of rapidly divided cells. Some patients experience skin irritation or swelling, while some don’t experience any symptoms at all. That’s why it’s crucial for women to get a cancer screening test, such as a mammogram, done annually or once every 2 years, depending on age.
While there has been an increasing amount of awareness about breast cancer in recent years, the vast sources of information have led to many misconceptions about this type of cancer.
Here is the truth about 5 breast cancer misconceptions.
Misconception #1: Mammograms aren’t needed if you can’t feel a lump
First and foremost, not feeling any lumps doesn’t mean you do not have breast cancer. Most lumps can’t be felt by your hand until they are at least 1 cm in size.
Mammograms, on the other hand, can detect lesions as small as 0.5 cm. Mammograms are low-dose x-rays of the breast that can find cancer at an early stage when treatment is the most successful. They can often detect cancerous breast changes years before physical symptoms develop.
Certain factors like having a personal history of breast cancer and inherited gene mutation are considered to increase the risk for women to develop breast cancer. Women at average risk should start screening with a yearly mammogram starting from age 40, while those at high risk should get a mammogram and breast MRI typically from age 30.
Research from over the years has shown that women who go for regular mammograms are more likely to have early detection of breast cancer – making them less likely to need aggressive treatment like chemotherapy and removal of the breast, and have a higher chance of being cured. Thus, self-examinations shouldn’t be a substitute for regular mammograms.
Misconception #2: Using deodorant can cause breast cancer
There have been claims that using underarm antiperspirants can increase cancer risk as they contain aluminium and chemicals that get absorbed into the lymph nodes and travel into the breast cells. It’s also been thought that when antiperspirants stop underarm sweating, they prevent the release of toxic substances from the lymph nodes, which also increases cancer risk.
However, there is no evidence of a link between the use of deodorants and breast cancer. Antiperspirants work when aluminium salts block the sweat glands, rather than the lymph nodes. Most carcinogens are removed through the kidneys or liver and excreted out. It is also crucial to note that breast cancer starts in the breast before spreading to the lymph nodes, instead of the other way around.
Misconception #3: Breast cancer only affects older women
Most people fall into the trap of believing that breast cancer doesn’t affect young women. Although it’s true that women at an older age are the most prominent risk factors for developing breast cancer, younger women are at risk as well. About 13% of Singaporean women diagnosed with breast cancer are below 40 years old.
Women of all ages should perform monthly breast self-examinations and pay attention to any unusual changes in their breasts.
Misconception #4: Wearing a bra all day causes breast cancer
You might have often heard from the media and Internet that wearing a bra increases cancer risk. The concern behind it is that the underwires in bras may restrict the flow of lymph fluid out of the breast, causing toxic substances to accumulate in the tissue.
However, there is once again no evidence to support this claim. A 2014 study of about 1,500 women confirmed that there is no link between wearing bras and breast cancer. In the worst-case scenario, a bra that is too tight can cause the underwires to dig into your breasts and lead to discomfort or swelling.
Misconception #5: Consuming too much sugar leads to breast cancer
Across all types of cancer, there is a common misconception that sugar feeds cancer and speeds up its growth. All cells, regardless of whether they’re healthy or cancerous, use sugar in your blood as fuel. While it is a fact that cancer cells tend to consume sugar quicker than normal cells, there isn’t any evidence which shows that sugar consumption leads to cancer.
That being said, consuming too much sugar can cause weight gain – and being overweight is a known risk factor for breast cancer.
It’s important to be well-informed about breast cancer so you can tell fact from myth. Nonetheless, one fact you should always keep in mind is to get screened regularly. Early detection is key to having more treatment options and a higher chance of survival. Get in touch with us for comprehensive breast cancer screening tests in Singapore today!