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Six Myths and Urban Legends about Breast Cancer

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Admit it. You’ve received at least one e-mail that has suckered you in by warning you of some impending doom scenario, and after being forwarded to dozens of people, it turns out to be completely false.

It happens to the best of us at one time or another. A well-meaning friend or family member passes along seemingly important information that looks and sounds true, but instead, it is a well-concocted hoax.

In recent years, Internet myths, urban legions or hoaxes about breast cancer have been widely circulated. Here are six of the most famous:

Antiperspirants. Internet e-mail rumors have suggested that chemicals in underarm antiperspirants are absorbed through the skin, interfere with lymph circulation, and cause toxins to build up in the breast. These toxins eventually lead to breast cancer.
Truth: There is very little laboratory or population-based evidence to support this rumor. One small study has found trace levels of parabens (used as preservatives in antiperspirants and other products), which have weak estrogen-like properties in a small sample of breast cancer tumors. However, the study did not look at whether parabens caused the tumors. This was a preliminary finding, and more research is needed to determine what effect, if any, parabens may have on breast cancer risk. On the other hand, a large study of breast cancer causes found no increase in breast cancer in women who used underarm antiperspirants or shaved their underarms.

Bras. Internet e-mail rumors and at least one book have suggested that wearing tightly-fitted or underwire bras cause breast cancer by obstructing lymph flow.
Truth: There is no good scientific or clinical basis for this claim. Women who do not wear bras regularly are more likely to be thinner, which would likely contribute to any perceived difference in risk.

Breast Implants. An Internet rumor circulated purported that breast implants significantly increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer.

Add a Comment11 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I think it's really strange that people think there are any true risk factors for breast cancer other than a strong genetic predisposition - which causes only about 10% of breast cancers. The only other real, direct possible cause of breast cancer is exposure to massive doses of radiation - like from a nuclear accident.

The other "risk factors", like being overweight, having no children (whether or not the woman has had abortions or miscarrages), consuming alcohol etc. and any number of things people think of as being associated with getting breast cancer aren't even present in most cases. In other words, most breast cancer victims don't have any "risk factors". So we have a disease where the "risk factors" mean pretty much nothing for most people.

Even if you feel strongly that women shouldn't get abortions (and please, no one likes abortion) saying that you will get breast cancer if you have one just isn't true.

And during Breast Cancer Awareness Month we should honor the victims of this dreaded and horrible disease that takes such an awful toll. I don't like the fact that anyone would try to tar the victims with the abortion brush. They are not being punished for having abortions, no matter how much you want to believe it.

October 2, 2009 - 8:06pm

I saw the comments regarding antiperspirants and deodorants not including parabens and wanted to comment on the one paper that reportedly implicated parabens with breast cancer. I'm also a scientist, and tho I know others reading this are not, I think the paper is so bad that it will be evident it really is not credible.
The paper by a person named Dabre indeed reported detecting parabens in samples of breast cancer tissue - trhey tested no normal tissue. To detect, they extracted the tissue with a solvent. The did run controls - including on the solvent before it ever saw parabens and you can see that was important because if it were already in the solvent before it saw tissue - you can't say it was in the tissue. THAT was one major problem. They reported that they DID detect it in the solvent before extraction and at levels aproximatung after extraction. They published it anyway - saying the stuff is so ubiquitous that you can't avoid it. This is patently untrue and and very very poor nscience - any number of other papers report good science re. parabens. At minimum - it should have been repeated with uncontaminated solvent - but it was not.

This is such an obvious error you have to wonder at the author's technical credentials to submit it and even more - that the journal had such low standards to publish it.

September 30, 2009 - 1:10pm

I'm going to jump in here. The interpretation and reporting of studies is based on your ability to understand statistics, separate results found from what was intended to be measured and what else that may be observed. Without further testing cause and effect cannot always be determined.

Clearly, the abortion influence on breast cancer is not universally felt to be related. There are numerous medical/health studies that enthusiastically measure circumstances such as low Vitamin D levels being a risk factor in everything from Alzheimers disease to vaginal infections. However, risk and cause are not the same thing and sometimes you aren't sure if the risk factor just happens to be present and is not really the cause.

I briefly looked at some of the studies posted at the breast cancer link posted by a commenter and in the ones I read, the women are divided into two groups: those who have had abortions and those who have not. However, all the hormones that occur in a pregnancy that is an aborted one occur in women who miscarry naturally in first and second trimeter losses.

In order to prove it is really abortions that are causing the risk vs miscarriages which essentially generate the identical hormones, studies would need be cited comparing women with abortions to women with miscarriages. And the concept of risk is just that, increased risk amongst all the other variables women have or do not have control over.

September 30, 2009 - 11:04am
EmpowHER Guest

I find it funny how people with absolutely no medical background and training claim the abortion-breast cancer link is a myth when other people in posts above have cited respected medical experts in the field saying it is not. We really have put politics over science haven't we. Sad.

September 30, 2009 - 7:09am
EmpowHER Guest

One more myth - that deodorants and antiperspirants include parabens. This is FALSE - they do not and virtually never have. I welcome folks to read ingredient labels next time they're in the store.
These products don't need preservatives because:
1) they're largely anhydrous (no water) and microbes need water to grow.
2) they include ingredients that kill microbes - acidic aluminum salts in antiperspirants and glycols in deodorants, as well as perfume chemicals
3) they are made and packed with heat or pressure - both of which kill microbes.

I'm a PhD microbiologist who has worked in the cosmetic industry for decades. I've seen but one such product using parabens - ironically it was an "herbal" product and was available only by on-line ordering.

September 30, 2009 - 7:09am
HERWriter Guide

I thought I had heard all the myths about breast cancer, but your article had some new ones. It's sad that these continue to circulate, because they just morph into other myths that aren't helpful. There's no clear cause for breast cancer, but there is a clear need for good information and more awareness.

September 29, 2009 - 5:32pm

Myths are just that, myths. There is no absolute cause for breast cancer. If we knew that we would know a cure and there is no cure for breast cancer. Not yet.

September 29, 2009 - 5:25pm

The relationship between induced and spontaneous abortion and breast cancer risk has been the subject of extensive research beginning in the late 1950s. It is clearly an emotional topic for many people. The fact is that until the mid-1990s, the evidence of a link between abortion and breast cancer was inconsistent. Findings from some studies suggested there was no increase in risk of breast cancer among women who had had an abortion, while findings from other studies suggested there was an increased risk. Most of these studies, however, were flawed in a number of ways that can lead to unreliable results. As stated in the article, more than 100 experts convened by the National Cancer Institute in 2003 reviewed a considerable amount of evidence to come to their collective agreement that ending a pregnancy early does not necessarily raise a woman's breast cancer risk. You can read the information for yourself, along with a link to the report at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/abortion-miscarriage.

September 29, 2009 - 3:12pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Lynette Summerill)

Sorry, but the studies are now flawed or they would not have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals in the first place.

In fact the most recent study, conducted by Dr. Vahit Ozmen and his colleagues at the Istanbul Medical Faculty at Istanbul University and Magee-Women's hospital in Pittsburgh, found a 66 percent increased risk of contracting breast cancer as a result of an abortion.

They published their findings in the April 2009 issue of the World Journal of Surgical Oncology.

The researchers said that their findings showed abortion was "significantly associated with increased breast cancer risk."

"Breast cancer risk was found to be increased in women with ... induced abortion (95% confidence interval)." More at http://www.lifenews.com/int1278.html

Regarding NCI, it's a political group and it ignored the findings of Joel Brind, Ph.D., the head of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute in the United States and a professor of endocrinology at Baruch College in New York, and many of his colleagues who wanted the link reported.

September 29, 2009 - 3:24pm
EmpowHER Guest

Dr. Angela Lanfranchi is a surgeon who deals with breast cancer and is also a Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and president of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute. I'm more inclined to believe her than some blogger.

Here is what she has to say:

Citing 52 years of breast cancer research, she said the evidence shows that, during pregnancy, unborn children "produce hormones that mature 85 percent of the mother's breast tissue into cancer-resistant breast tissue."

This accounts for the protective effect of full term pregnancy (FTP) that experts universally recognize.

According to Lanfranchi, a delayed first FTP is associated with a temporary risk increase because it lengthens the period during the reproductive years when nearly all of the breast lobules are immature and cancer-susceptible and exposed to the cancer-causing effects of estrogen during menstrual cycles.

However, in terms of lifetime risk, the mother will eventually benefit from the protective effect of FTP, provided it lasted at least 32 weeks.

At the same time, the physician says short pregnancies like abortions that end before 32 weeks, except for first trimester miscarriages, leave the breasts only "partially matured" and "with more places for cancers to start."

"Induced abortion is a recognized cause of premature birth.... and prematurity more than doubles breast cancer risk if it is before 32 weeks," Lanfranchi writes.

More at http://www.lifenews.com/nat5441.html

Quit lying to women...

September 29, 2009 - 9:41am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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