Help At Your Fingertips

Debunking common myths about breast cancer

Mammograms can help save lives by detecting breast cancer early.

Yet, there are some who are afraid to go for the test as they are afraid of what it might detect.

Others think they can prevent cancer by eating certain foods or living certain lifestyles.

The truth is, anyone can get cancer. And, just as true, many beliefs about the disease are unfounded.

Dr Tan Yah Yuen, a breast surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, debunks some common myths:

Almost all breast tumours, whether cancerous or not, are not painful.

Pain tends to result from benign cysts, or an inflammation or infection. As breast cancers are usually not painful, women are advised to do a breast self-examination every month.

MYTH: Superfoods and organic food can prevent or treat cancer.

FACT: There is no scientific evidence that any special superfoods or an organic diet can prevent breast cancer or cure it once the cancer has developed.

There are, however, recommendations on dietary habits that may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

These include a healthy diet focusing on plant sources as well as less fatty and oily food.

The intake of red meats and processed foods should be limited and wholegrains are preferred over processed grains.

Women should limit their alcohol intake to less than one serving a day.

The consumption of superfoods containing antioxidants may help to lower the breast cancer risk.

Women should avoid being overweight. Being overweight raises the estrogen levels in the body, which can help breast cancer cells to grow.

MYTH: I avoid wearing a tight- fitting bra as it can cut off lymph drainage and contribute to the development of breast cancer.

FACT: There is no evidence that wearing a tight bra will limit the lymphatic drainage of the breast. 

The lymphatic drainage in our body is generally very efficient, unless it is directly affected by surgery or a disease.

MYTH: A breast lump cannot becancerous as it is not painful.

FACT: Almost all breast tumours, whether cancerous or not, are not painful. Pain tends to result from benign cysts, or an inflammation or infection.

As breast cancers are usually not painful, women are advised to do a breast self-examination every month. Regardless of whether there is any pain, those who find a new breast lump should have it evaluated by a medical professional.

MYTH: I am not at risk of breast cancer because there is no family history of cancer.

FACT: Seventy per cent of newly- diagnosed breast cancer patients do not have any family history of breast cancer.

If one has a family history, the risk will be higher (but this does not mean that the development of breast cancer is a certainty).

The absence of any family history of the disease does not mean that a woman is not at risk. Regardless of whether there is a family history, women should go for breast screening.

MYTH: I am afraid to go for breast screening because I don't want to have chemotherapy or have my breast removed.

FACT: Not all breast cancers are treated the same way. In the early stages, the breast does not always need to be removed.

Chemotherapy may not always be necessary if the cancer is in the very early stages. Hence, women should go for breast screening so that the cancer can be diagnosed early.

This would reduce the chances of having to have the breast removed or the need for chemotherapy.

Joyce Teo

•This is the first of a two-part series on breast cancer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'Debunking common myths about breast cancer'. Print Edition | Subscribe