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AARP The Magazine

8 Myths — and the Truth — About Breast Cancer

Despite awareness campaigns and countless news articles, misconceptions abound about risks, prevention, detection and treatment

Myth #5: Wearing deodorant increases risk

Reality: The National Cancer Institute reports there's no conclusive evidence linking the use of antiperspirants or deodorants and the development of breast cancer. Some studies have shown a possible association. For example, in a 2004 study, parabens — chemicals used as preservatives in some antiperspirants — were found in 18 of 20 breast tumor tissue samples. Still, the study didn't prove that parabens caused the tumors. Other research suggests that aluminum-based compounds that are applied frequently near the breast may be absorbed by the skin and cause estrogen-like effects. Breast cancer risk is linked to increased levels of estrogen.

The bottom line? The jury is still out. Women who are concerned can avoid using antiperspirants if they want, but it would be more useful to focus on addressing known risk factors such as weight gain and obesity, physical inactivity, alcoholic beverages and use of hormone therapy, advises Saslow.

Myth 6: Breast implants can raise cancer risk

Reality: According to the Susan G. Komen foundation, although there has been some debate, there is no scientific evidence to show that having either saline or silicone breast implants increases a woman's cancer risk. In fact, an analysis that combined the results from 10 studies found no increase in breast cancer risk among women with breast implants. Standard mammograms don't always work as well on these women, however, so additional X-rays are sometimes necessary.

Myth 7: Your father's family cancer history doesn't affect your risk

Reality: When evaluating family history, the male side definitely counts. A history of breast cancer in a close male relative (father, brother or uncle) can boost your risk. A history of prostate cancer in one or more immediate relatives (father or brother) may also raise the odds, especially if the prostate cancer was found at a young age. Although the connection between a family history of prostate cancer and breast cancer is unknown, possibilities include shared lifestyle factors or gene mutations.

Myth 8: Wearing an underwire bra increases your breast cancer risk

Reality: There is no scientific evidence to support this rumor. It was partly fueled by the self-published 1995 book Dressed to Kill, in which a husband-and-wife medical anthropology team claimed that women who wore tight-fitting bras had a greater chance of developing breast cancer than those who went lingerie-less. In fact, bras do not block the drainage of lymph fluid from the bottom of the breast, as the book claimed.

Holly St. Lifer is a freelance health reporter and writer.

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