October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and while the disease will affect women year round, now is a good time to educate yourself about the statistics, facts and figures surrounding breast cancer.
In fact, 3.6% of South African women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. With its prevalence on the rise, here are some common breast cancer myths that we want to dispel.
‘Only old people get breast cancer’
While women over the age of 45 do have an increased risk of breast cancer, that’s not to say that you can’t develop it at a much younger age. In fact, around 7% of cases are in women under the age of 40. The idea that only older women get breast cancer is quite a harmful belief as many younger women ignore the early warning signs as they think they are too young to develop cancer.
‘Breast cancer is a death sentence’
When it’s detected early, especially if the tumour is less than 2cm in diameter, breast cancer has a fairly good rate of recovery. In these instances, the five year relative survival rate is 90%. Of course, these odds get less favourable if the cancer is detected later. If it is diagnosed at stage IV, for instance, the survival rate drops quite drastically to around 15%.
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‘Wearing deodorant/an underwire bra can cause breast cancer’
There are always strange rumours flying around about what can cause breast cancer. Some people say that deodorant will cause you to develop it. Some people say that injury or trauma to the breast can also cause breast cancer. Others believe that an underwire bra will give you cancer. Luckily, none of these are true so you can carry on wearing your bra and deodorant!
There’s nothing you can do to lower your risk of breast cancer
Actually, yes there is! Sure, you can’t guarantee that you won’t develop breast cancer but you can certainly take steps to try and minimise the risk. For example, smokers and heavy drinkers are at higher risk so quitting smoking and curbing your drinking can help lower the risk. Eating a healthy, balanced diet which is high in fruit and vegetables and controlling your weight can also decrease your risk of developing breast cancer, as can limiting your exposure to hormone-based therapies and medication.
‘I can’t get breast cancer because I’m pregnant/have had kids’
Women who have not had children are, in fact, at greater risk of developing breast cancer as are those who have children after the age of 30. This doesn’t mean that because you had kids in your twenties that you are immune to breast cancer though, just that your risk is slightly lower. Your risk of getting breast cancer later in life is also slightly lower if you breastfed your children. However, don’t let this make you complacement! You can of course, also get breast cancer when you are pregnant or breastfeeding despite what some old wives tales might say. You may also be less inclined to notice any lumps or bumps as your breasts are naturally enlarged and more sensitive during these times.