Breast Cancer: Myths vs. Facts

Amber Dobyne, M.D.
OakBend Medical Center

This year, about 40,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer. For women, it is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the US, even though breast cancer death rates have been slowly decreasing since the late 1980s. Three million American women have a history of breast cancer, meaning that they are women who have finished treatment or are currently being treated for breast cancer. October has now become synonymous with breast cancer awareness, encouraging women to receive mammograms annually to be screened for suspicious symptoms.

While family history is thought to play a large part in the likelihood of developing breast cancer, 85% of breast cancer occurs in women who have no family history of breast cancer. Breast cancer is more common in African-American women than in white women, but the two major risk facts are actually things that cannot be controlled – getting older and being a woman. Because breast cancer has more visibility than ever before and with the invention of the Internet, rumors come quickly. Over the past 20 years, many keyboard warriors have claimed many things have been proven to “cause” breast cancer or increase patient risk.

Deodorants and Antiperspirants

An email rumor claimed underarm deodorants and antiperspirants contained cancer-causing substances that were deposited into the lymph nodes. These claims have been proven to be largely untrue, and lymph nodes are not connected to the sweat glands.

Wearing a Bra

There is no scientific evidence that proves wearing a bra causes breast cancer.


Recent studies found that coffee may actually lower the risk of several types of cancer. The controversial aspect to coffee is a chemical called acrylamide, a carcinogen. The key to any diet is moderation, and coffee in moderation has not been shown to have adverse health benefits, cancer-related or otherwise.

The factors that actually increase someone’s risk for cancer have little to do with the type of personal care items they may or may not use. One major risk factor for any type of cancer is smoking. Lifestyle factors play a marginally small role in reducing breast cancer risk, but can reduce risk for many other diseases that are equally as deadly, like stroke and heart disease. Drinking alcohol to excess increases cancer risk by 42% and is a known cause of cancer of the mouth, throat, liver and breast. A diet with poor nutrition is also another risk factor for cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that individuals get two and a half cups of vegetables each day. Lack of physical activity is also a cancer risk.

It can be tempting to go online for research purposes but take caution with what you may read on the internet. The best form of information and research is your physician, and the best steps you can take to mitigate risk are simple: get screened annually for a mammogram, eat well and exercise, and consume alcohol and coffee in moderation. There is no guarantee against any type of cancer, but taking steps to live a healthier lifestyle has no negative side effects.