Breast Cancer-Causing Myths and Truths Unveiled

There is plenty of misinformation on the internet about every health concern. It is easy for people to go online and find anecdotes that they can spin to diagnose their issues from the comfort of their own homes. This is not only anxiety-inducing but is also dangerous! When it comes to breast cancer prevention and diagnosis, research from professional sources is your best bet. We sat down with Toronto’s Breast Surgery Specialist Dr. Jugenburg to discuss the misinformation surrounding breast cancer, and reconstructive surgery. 

Dr. Martin Jugenburg has been a household name in the plastic surgery industry for over a decade as one of Canada’s best-known Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons specializing in Breast Reconstructions and Cosmetic Surgery. He is the founder of Toronto’s SixSurgery Clinic, where patients look when searching for the best surgeons in Toronto to perform beautiful cosmetic transformations. Before opening his own clinic, Dr. Jugenburg specialized in breast cancer reconstructive surgery, researching breast cancer in-depth and working with globally recognized institutes. Having done over 4000 breast procedures, Dr. Jugenburg is famous for helping patients to reclaim their bodies post-recovery. 

When should women receive their first mammogram?

One of the most dangerous myths about breast cancer is that it can only affect older women. While it does occur more often in older patients, there is still a chance that younger patients can get breast cancer too. Current scientific evidence suggests that doing mammograms makes sense at 40 unless breast cancer runs in your family, you have genetic risk factors, or you are advised by your primary care physician to get a mammogram. However, women of all ages should be conducting breast checks often.  Regular self-breast exams should be routine for all women, given the prevalence of breast cancer in the population. It is important that all women understand the value of regular breast exams, knowing their breasts, and recognizing when something changes. The ability to catch any breast cancer lesion early is crucial to maximizing the likelihood of successful treatment. Visit your doctor if you have questions, or notice anything abnormal when performing one of these checks. 

Can receiving a mammogram cause breast cancer?

All radiation studies (mammograms, x-rays, ct-scans) involve a small amount of radiation which can potentially lead to cancer. However, the risk is so exceptionally small and far outweighed by the benefit of those investigations.  Nobody should avoid a mammogram because they are afraid it can result in breast cancer.

Does deodorant or antiperspirant cause breast cancer?

Similar to underwire bras at bedtime, people theorize that certain deodorants can cause cancer by clogging the sweat glands and causing breast cancer because of the proximity to the breast. This is based on a complete misunderstanding of what sweat glands do.  

Antiperspirants do stop you from sweating, but contrary to popular belief the primary reason for sweat is to cool your body down, not remove toxins from the body. So using antiperspirants will not cause a buildup of toxins near the breast that will cause breast cancer. While aluminum-based deodorants aren’t the best for your armpit and skin health, there is no proof that they can cause breast cancer.

Do bras cause breast cancer?

This is another media myth. For a while, there was a theory floating around that underwire bras would restrict the flow of lymph fluid from the breast, causing build-up that would eventually lead to breast cancer. The theory makes no logical sense to anyone who understands the anatomy and physiology of the human body.  This theory was tested on 1500 women in 2014, and no link could be found between bras and breast cancer.

I see this theory surface every so often, and I always remind my community that a little bit of research into reliable sources can quickly put it to rest!  Trust your doctor and realize there is no amount of web surfing you can do to catch up on the knowledge and experience of someone who has dedicated their professional life to understanding medicine.

Do any specific foods or supplements cause breast cancer? 

Protein shakes and dietary supplements are harmless food supplements that have no impact on your risk of breast cancer.  It is easy to find some component or ingredient of these dietary supplements that online is labeled as ‘carcinogenic’.  Remember that pretty much anything can be toxic to your body if given an incorrect dosage.  Dosage matters.  You can consume very minuscule volumes of a potentially harmful substance and have no toxic effects.  On the other hand, consuming excessive amounts of something as harmless-sounding as water can lead to potential neurological complications.

Do cell phones / wifi / computers cause breast cancer?

When cellphones became commonplace, it was noticed that a lot of young women were holding their phones in their bras! According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the radiation produced by a cell phone can possibly cause cancer, but there is no official position on the matter from any cancer research institutions. To be safe, avoid using your bra as a pocket for technology, but don’t worry about the traveling waves of radiation when texting or calling friends! To date, there has been no finding of any increase in breast cancer incidence in women since cell phones became popular.

Can sugar cause breast cancer?

This is a great example of how any information can potentially get misused. Sugar does not cause cancer. Sugar is a nutrient used by your cells to generate energy.  However, excessive amounts of sugar can be harmful (recall the earlier statement that any substance, when in excess, can and will have deleterious effects).  Excessive sugar leads to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease and so on indirectly leading to health conditions that may predispose you to cancer.  But that is not the same thing as saying sugar causes cancer.

What does cause breast cancer?

We know that as women age, their risk of breast cancer increases. 1 in 8 women in North America will develop breast cancer.  And while that is a relatively high number, because of better detection, most breast cancers are caught very early and are treated successfully.  In addition to the general risk to all women, we also now know there are specific genetic markers that are associated with breast cancer.  Women can be tested for these genes and if found positive, the option of a preventative mastectomy and reconstruction can be discussed.

In conclusion, Dr. Jugenburg notes that there are too many breast cancer myths out there to list and correct them all. When asked if he could leave readers with one last thought he says. “Physicians have spent 4 years in undergraduate degrees, 4 years in medical school, and then several years in post-graduate training learning about everything they need to know to look after your health.  Realize there is no amount of reading, watching videos, and talking to other people that will help you catch up on the knowledge and experience that your doctor has. So trust them over online sites spreading mis-information. If you want to get a second opinion from another physician, never feel embarrassed to do so. If you do want to read about something, make sure you are reading an authoritative site, not an obscure fringe source of information that somehow seems to know the secret nobody else knows.”