Everywhere you go in October people are decked out in pink to highlight breast cancer awareness. These pink campaigns have gone a long way in generating discussion and action around the critical issue of breast cancer. There have been pink and black campaigns to engage more Black women and communities. This engagement has helped people understand that breast cancer is diagnosed at a more advanced stage in Black women and more Black women die from breast cancer than White women.
There are great websites and blogs educating the public about breast cancer ( www.breastcancer.org, www.sistersnetworkinginc.org, www.komencolorado.org). And even though lung cancer causes the most cancer deaths among women, breast cancer still gets most of the attention. This is well needed attention because early detection can save women from unnecessary pain and suffering. However, despite these efforts, whether it is in the clinic or in the barbershops, salons, or at Mr. Charles Line Dancing class, I am a witness to the myths that still circulate about breast cancer. Some of these myths are deep rooted and have circulated for decades. Who knows how some of these myths got started, but once a story gets rolling and then takes root it can be hard to dispel.
Based on my years of experience, I have chosen to bust 6 myths that I have heard more than one time. Drop the Colorado Black Collaborative a line at www.coloradoblack.org to tell us which myth you appreciated hearing about. If you have additional suggestions about breast cancer myths that should be shared with our community let us know that as well.
Myth #1 If I pray the lump will go away.
God rest her soul, but one year I had a young lady that had come to the hospital for hip pain. When she presented to the emergency room she only mentioned that her hip was hurting and didn’t know why. When they got an x-ray of her hip they noticed an area on the hip bone that looked like cancer. They later discovered that she had metastatic cancer. Cancer had spread from her breast to her bones. The rest of the story was that she had noticed a lump a year prior. She didn’t get checked. She just prayed that it would go away. I have heard this refrain from other people as well, over the years. Praying without ceasing is righteous, but if you notice something different or abnormal on your body, go get checked out. Early detection is key in breast cancer.
Myth #2 Nobody in my family has cancer so I won’t have it either.
Only about 10% of women with breast cancer have a history of it in their family. So even if breast cancer doesn’t run in your family that doesn’t mean that you won’t get it. Don’t take a pass on the mammogram. Get checked at the specified intervals and tell the rest of your girlfriends and family to do the same.
Myth # 3 I heard underwire bras cause breast cancer.
Women’s breasts come in all shapes and sizes. Women may wear underwire bras because of size of the breasts or age of the breasts. Maya Angelou, one of my favorite poets of all time, once said during an interview with Oprah, that her breasts seemed to be in a race to see which would reach her waist first. I can relate. Wire bras can lend a hand in these cases. At any rate for whatever reason you wear an underwire bra, this does not cause cancer. There are no scientific studies to support that these types of bras cause cancer.
Myth #4 Deodorant / Antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
“No see, see I heard that the aluminum and stuff in the deodorants can cause cancer.” I have heard this in my travels. Really there is no scientific proof of this either. Some research suggests that aluminum-containing underarm antiperspirants may be absorbed by the skin and have effects similar to estrogen. No studies to date have confirmed any significant bad effects of aluminum that could contribute to increased breast cancer risks. In 2014 a systematic review of the issue was reported and there was no clear evidence that there was an increased risk of breast cancer using these products. So, keep rolling it on so you can exercise. Exercise has been shown to reduce your risk of cancer. You are more likely to lose friends from not using deodorant than you are to develop breast cancer.
The National Cancer Institute has an information service lines at 1-800-4-CANCER and a wonderful fact sheet on this issue, www.cancer.gov.about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/myths/antiperspirants-fact-sheet.
I have asked quite a few women over the years, when was the last time they had a mammogram. Some would say, its’ been a minute. That really means it has been years. The current recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org) says that women 50-74 years old should get a mammogram every two years. I recommend that you check with your doctor to see what interval is right for you.
A mammogram can find breast changes that could be cancer long before physical signs or symptoms may be present. If the mammogram is abnormal then you will need additional evaluation.
Myth #6 I would know I have cancer because I would have symptoms.
Breast cancer can occur without symptoms. Sometimes symptoms are not obvious. I agree with the American Cancer Society ( www.cancer.org) when they say that “women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away.” That is how one young lady that was below the age for routine screening was detected. She noticed a new lump or mass in her breast and requested an evaluation by her doctor. Subsequently the mammogram was positive. That is why awareness and mammogram are important.
That’s my take on a few of the myths that have bubbled up in my 30 years of clinical practice and serving the community. I want to encourage all women to engage in routine screening for breast cancer when the time comes. Talk with your doctor about the right screening time-frame for you. Continue to have health related and healthy conversations with your girlfriends, BFFs, family, neighbors, and others. If you hear something that doesn’t ring true, talk to your doctor or visit some of the websites mentioned in this article. You can also reach out to the Colorado Black Health Collaborative on our Facebook page or website, www.coloradoblackhealth.org.
Learn more and continue to Form a Lifetime of Optimal Wellness ( F.L.O.W)!
Internal Medicine Physician
Colorado Black Health Collaborative
Passionate about the Health of the Community