BREAST CANCER MYTHS DEBUNKED
Know the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to breast cancer? Here, the experts set the record straight on some of the most common misconceptions.
MYTH: Only women get breast cancer. TRUTH: Men can develop breast cancer, too, though male breast cancer is very rare, says Dr Khoo. In fact, only one percent of all breast cancers diagnosed are in male patients. “But, regardless of whether someone is male or female, they are all treated along the same principle,” he says.
MYTH: Consuming soy products can increase the risk of breast cancer. TRUTH: There is no strong evidence of a link between soy and breast cancer, says Dr Khoo. “Soy products such as tofu and soy milk contain a group of chemicals called isoflavones, which are plant-based oestrogens that may mimic the action of human oestrogen. Because oestrogen plays a part in the development, growth and spread of breast cancers, and because most breast cancers are hormone sensitive, there is this concern about consuming soy products. However, that doesn’t mean these products can’t be consumed at all; my suggestion is to consume them in moderation.”
MYTH: Using deodorant can cause breast cancer. TRUTH: Deodorants do not cause breast cancer, says Dr Khoo. “There is no convincing evidence that deodorants can cause breast cancer. This myth probably started because people believed that the chemicals in the deodorant can be absorbed through the armpit, which is not true,” he says. “So, deodorant is generally safe to use, but try to use those with less chemicals, as they are also gentler to the skin.”
MYTH: Breast cancers are always in the form of a lump. TRUTH: “Symptoms of breast cancer are quite variable,” says Dr Chan. “The most common symptom is a painless lump in the breast, but breast cancer can also present itself as persistent breast swelling, continual skin thickening or puckering, or lumps in the armpit. Patients should also pay attention to nipple changes such as a new onset of nipple retraction, persistent rash over the nipple or bloody discharge from the nipple.”
MYTH: You don’t need mammograms if you lead a healthy lifestyle. TRUTH: “Mammograms are still essential for breast health, no matter what,” says Dr Chan. “While it’s true that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by 10 to 20 percent, patients who lead healthy lifestyles can still develop the disease. A screening mammogram can detect cancer in the breast even before the tumour can be felt or cause any symptoms. An early diagnosis can reduce the need for major surgery, and hopefully avoid the need for chemotherapy as well. It’s recommended that women aged from 40 to 49 go for annual screening mammograms and, after turning 50, a mammogram once every two years.”
MYTH: Removal of the entire breast is safer than segmental mastectomy and radiation therapy. TRUTH: “It’s natural for any woman with breast cancer to feel that removal of the entire breast is safer than having some breast tissue left behind. ‘ Just get it out’ is a common response, as the risk of local recurrence is lower,” says Dr Chanyaputhipong. “However, studies have shown that, although there is a slightly increased rate of recurrence in the BCS group, there is no difference in survival between the two.”
MYTH: Women with a strong family history of breast cancer should not even consider breastconserving surgery. “If we are talking about the ‘Angelina effect’, where the woman carries the mutated gene that can cause breast cancer but does not yet have cancer, if she chooses surgery, BCS is not an option! We won’t know the quadrant in which the cancer will develop,” says Dr Chanyaputhipong. “However, if we’re talking about a woman with breast cancer who also has strong family history of breast cancer, she can be offered BCS if there are no contraindications. It all comes down to understanding the risks, benefits, options available and one’s own preference.”