Breast Cancer: Myths & Facts

Author: Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN and Suzanne McGettigan, MSN, CRNP, AOCN
Last Reviewed: October 25, 2022
Myth: I have pain in my breast, so I must have breast cancer.

Fact: Pain in the breast is common and can be caused by several things, but it is not usually associated with breast cancer. You should make notes about when the pain occurs in relation to the menstrual cycle, how long does it last, and if there is anything that seems to trigger the pain or relieve it. Oftentimes, breast pain will resolve on its own, but, if it does not, you should see your healthcare provider. Some common causes of breast pain include hormonal changes during menstruation, birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, weight gain, fluid retention (swelling), or a poorly fitting bra. There is even some research to say caffeine can contribute to water retention which leads to breast pain.

Myth: A teenage girl who finds a "lump" must have breast cancer.

Fact: Although breast cancer can occasionally affect women as young as their mid-twenties, it would be unlikely for a teenager to have breast cancer. A lump found in a teenager is usually a fibroadenoma, which is not cancer. These lumps feel hard and round, but do not usually cause any pain. They can be surgically removed if they become bothersome. Any lump should be checked by your healthcare provider.

Myth: Men do not get breast cancer.

Fact: Breast cancer in men accounts for about 1% of all breast cancer cases (men & women combined) and about 0.2% of all types of cancers in men. There will be about 2,710 new cases of male breast cancer in 2022, compared to 290,560 new cases in women. Learn more about breast cancer in males.

Myth: Having a mammogram causes breast cancer or causes an already existing cancer to spread.

Fact: Mammography does not cause breast cancer. Mammography cannot cause known breast cancer to spread. The compression (flattening) of the breast tissue during a mammogram does not cause breast cancer and does not cause known breast cancer to spread.

Mammography does expose a woman to a low amount of radiation. It is an extremely small amount of radiation and is at a level far below any regulatory limits. However, if you are pregnant you should notify your healthcare provider prior to having a mammogram.

Myth: I have breast implants and can't have mammograms.

Fact: Mammography can be performed on women who have had breast implants. Women who have had breast implants should continue to have screening mammograms according to the guidelines established by the National Cancer Institute. A woman with breast implants should notify the center performing her mammogram that she has breast implants. Implants can occasionally block some views of the breast, but notifying the technologist performing the mammogram that you have breast implants allows special techniques to be used to make sure that as much tissue as possible can be seen on the mammogram. Additional pictures may be taken of the breasts of women with implants, so the test could take a few minutes longer.

In women who have had breast reconstruction following mastectomy, there is often minimal breast tissue remaining on the side of the mastectomy. Your doctor may decide that mammograms are no longer necessary on the breast(s) that were removed.

Myth: Injury to the breast causes cancer.

Fact: Injury to the breast does not cause breast cancer. If the breast is bruised badly, there may be an accumulation of blood under the skin that can feel like a lump. The body will reabsorb this over time, just as any bruise heals.

Myth: Antiperspirant and/or deodorant causes breast cancer.

Fact: There have been reports that antiperspirants and deodorants (AP / D) contain chemicals that can be absorbed through nicks due to shaving and cause breast cancer. There have actually been a few studies looking at this. The first study showed no increased risk of breast cancer in women who used antiperspirant or deodorant with or without shaving the underarm area (they even asked whether an electric razor or regular razor was used). The second study is what has caused all of the concern – Paraben is a preservative found in cosmetics and AP / D that acts like an estrogen in the body. Researchers examined breast tissue from 20 breast cancer patients and found parabens in that tissue. These researchers did not look at healthy breast tissue or tissue from other parts of the body to check for parabens, so we do not know if all tissues contain parabens. The researchers also did not prove that the parabens they found actually came from AP or D (since so many products contain parabens). They also did not prove that parabens cause breast cancer.

One other surveyed women with breast cancer. They found that those who started using these products at younger ages and used them more frequently were diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age. This study did not include any women without breast cancer, which makes it impossible to apply the results to everyone.

Bottom line is – more research is needed. Parabens are a group of preservatives, used to prevent bacterial growth, and are found in many things, including cosmetics, food and beverages. If you want to avoid these parabens, check the ingredient list for any of the following: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, parahydroxybenzoate or parahydroxybenzoate and find one that doesn't contain them.

Myth: Biopsies and air cause breast cancer to spread.

Fact: Biopsies and/or air can not cause breast cancer to spread. The fear of biopsies comes from the concern that sticking a needle into a breast tumor to get a sample or using a scalpel to remove the whole tumor can then move some of those cells to a different place in the breast (by the cells sticking to the needle or dropping cells from the tumor into other places). Studies have not found this to be true for breast cancer biopsies (but it can happen with ovarian cancers). Some people believe that exposing cancer to air during surgery or biopsy can cause cancer to spread, this too, is not true.

Myth: If you don't have a family history of breast cancer, you are not at risk.

Only 5-10% of breast cancer diagnoses happen in someone with a family history. The vast majority of cases occur in people with no family history. This is why screening is an important tool to identify breast cancer cases early when they are most treatable.

Myth: Women get breast cancer because of something they did, because they kept their emotions inside, or had low self-esteem.

Fact: A group of researchers in Australia did a study on this topic. They found no increased risk of breast cancer in any of the personality traits they studied. These included mature or immature behavior, neurotic behavior, emotional expression (keeping them in or letting them out), emotional control, self-esteem, anxiety, or depression.

Learn More About Breast Cancer Myths & Facts From These Sites - Breast cancer myths versus facts

National Breast Cancer Foundation - Breast cancer myths

National Breast Cancer Coalition - 22 Myths & Truths


  • The American Cancer Society. Facts and Figures
  • Harvey PW. Everett DJ. Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid ( parabens ) in human breast tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicology. 24(1):1-4, 2004 Jan-Feb.
  • McGrath KG. An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirant s/ deodorant s and underarm shaving. European Journal of Cancer Prevention. 12(6):479-85, 2003 Dec.
  • Mirick DK. Davis S. Thomas DB. Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 94(20):1578-80, 2002 Oct 16.
  • Peters-Engel, C. et al. The impact of preoperative breast biopsy on the risk of sentinel lymph node metastases: analysis of 2502 cases from the Austrian Sentinel Node Biopsy Study Group. British Journal of Cancer, 2004 Nov 15; 91(10):1782-6.


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