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.
Truth: Several studies have found that breast implants do not increase breast cancer risk, although silicone breast implants can cause scar tissue to form in the breast. Implants make it harder to see breast tissue on standard mammograms, but additional x-ray pictures called implant displacement views can be used to examine the breast tissue more completely.
Induced Abortions. Induced or spontaneous abortions are directly linked to breast cancer.
Truth: Although some groups and e-mail rumors purport an abortion-breast cancer link exists, several studies have provided very strong data that neither induced abortions nor spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) have an overall effect on the risk of breast cancer. In February 2003, the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) held a workshop of more than 100 of the world's leading experts who study pregnancy and breast cancer risk. The experts reviewed human and animal studies that looked at the link between pregnancy and breast cancer risk, including studies of induced and spontaneous abortions. They agreed with the findings that induced or spontaneous abortion did not increase breast cancer risk. As of 2008, NCI has not changed this view.
Practicing fellatio. An internet spoof circulated early in 2003 purported that an university study showed that women who performed fellatio on a regular basis (one to three times per week) may significantly decrease their breast cancer risk.
Truth: There is no valid data to show that fellatio and breast cancer are connected.
Working the Night Shift. Several studies have suggested that women who work at night — nurses on a night shift, for example — may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Truth: This is a fairly recent finding, and may prove to be true, however more studies are needed to determine validity. Some researchers think the effect may be due to changes in levels of melatonin, a hormone whose production is affected by the body's exposure to light, but other hormones are also being studied for possible connections.
Azsunshinegirl, aka Lynette Summerill, is an award-winning journalist who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues, she writes a blog, Nonsmoking Nation, which follows global tobacco news and events.