Mitch Shulman: Some breast cancer myths

Being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence anymore. Women are much more aware and are taking an increasingly proactive role in screening.

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d like to take this opportunity to debunk some myths about cancer in general and breast cancer specifically.

First and foremost, I don’t want people to give up hope. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence anymore. I will not minimize its impact. Without question being told that you or a loved one has breast cancer is not something to be taken lightly.

The treatments can sometimes be painful and may cause significant suffering, but breast cancer survival rates continue to improve. We have an excellent screening plan in place here in Quebec and excellent breast cancer clinics. Women are much more aware and are taking an increasingly proactive role in screening. There’s a lot that’s going right but certainly there is a lot more that we can and should be doing.

While it is true that being obese increases your risk of breast and other cancers, once the diagnosis is made eating sugar won’t make your cancer harder to eradicate. It always makes sense to eat wisely and it’s never too late to make changes to your diet — but sugar doesn’t specifically make your breast cancer grow faster.

In a similar vein, people have asked if artificial sweeteners could have caused their cancer. There is no proof of an association between artificial sweeteners and breast or any other human cancer.

While we’re on the topic of what may cause breast cancer, there is no scientifically valid proof that the use of anti-deodorants or anti-perspirants; wearing an underwire or any sort of bra; or, having a breast implant, can cause breast cancer.

Breast cancer happens for a number of reasons, many of which are completely out of our control. That’s why screening is so important as it can “just happen”. On the other hand, if you already know that your risk is increased, perhaps because of a positive family history, obesity or other factors, make certain that you are followed on a regular basis and do the proper screening. It’s easier to handle breast cancer if it’s caught earlier.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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