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11 breast cancer myths (and the facts you need to know)

How much do you know about breast cancer? We tackle some of the most common myths and misconceptions about the disease and reveal the facts that could save your life.

Woman attending a routine appointment for breast cancer screening

Myth #1: A lump in the breast is the only symptom I need to look out for

FACT: Breast cancer doesn’t always start with a lump

A lump in the breast is one of the most commonly known symptoms of breast cancer. While this is important, 27% of women who check their breasts don’t feel confident that they would notice a new or unusual change in their breasts.

As well as a lump, symptoms to look out for include:

  • A new area of thickened tissue in your breast
  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts 
  • A change in how your nipple looks, such as becoming sunken
  • A lump or swelling in either armpit 
  • A rash, crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple 
  • Puckering or dimpling on the skin of your breast 
  • Discharge of fluid from either nipple 

If you experience any of these, contact your GP as soon as possible.  

Myth #2: I’m too young to get breast cancer

FACT: Breast cancer can affect people of all ages.

While breast cancer is less common in younger age groups, young women can still develop the disease. In Yorkshire, 739 women under 50 were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.

It’s crucial that young women look out for the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and contact their GP as early as possible if they spot anything unusual.

Myth #3: Only women get breast cancer

FACT: Men can get breast cancer too.

Most cases of breast cancer do occur in women: in Yorkshire, just over 4,300 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. But though extremely rare, breast cancer can occur in men as well, and male cases represent close to 1% of breast cancer cases. An estimated 31 men in Yorkshire were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.

So it’s important that men know and regularly check their bodies for the symptoms of breast cancer above, and contact their GP if they spot anything unusual.

Myth #4: A lump will always lead to a breast cancer diagnosis

FACT: Most lumps are not breast cancer – but it’s still important to get them checked.

Finding a lump in the breast can understandably be distressing, and it’s easy to assume the worst. But in fact, most lumps are not breast cancer. A lump could be something harmless like fibroadenoma (non-cancerous tissue growth), or a breast cyst caused by a build-up of fluid. However, it can be difficult to tell without proper clinical tests whether a lump is breast cancer or not. So, if you do find a lump, you should get it checked out by a GP as soon as possible. The majority will not be cancer, but if it is, then finding it early means that it is more likely to be treated successfully.

Myth #5: Only people with a family history get breast cancer

FACT: Most people who get breast cancer have no family history of the condition.

Faults in some genes can increase a person’s likelihood of developing breast cancer. These genes include BRCA1 and BRCA2. However, research shows that only 5-10% of breast cancers are associated with a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene passed down from parents¹.

Therefore, all women, whether they have a family history of breast cancer or not, should take part in breast screening when invited and go to their GP if they experience any potential breast cancer symptoms.

Myth #6: Being diagnosed with breast cancer is a certain death sentence

FACT: The likelihood of surviving breast cancer is high – especially if it is caught early.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer is worrying – it’s a life-threatening illness that needs to be treated. But breast cancer can be treated successfully, and your chances of surviving it are higher than you may think.

In Yorkshire, 9 in 10 (89.7%) women diagnosed with breast cancer survive for at least five years or more, and 8 in 10 (82.9%) survive at least 10 years or more. As a result, nearly 52,000 women in Yorkshire were living with or beyond breast cancer in 2020.

Survival is the highest when cancer is diagnosed early: almost everyone (98.2%) diagnosed at Stage 1 (the earliest stage) survives for five years or more.

So if you notice symptoms that might be breast cancer, contact your GP without delay, and remember to take part in screening when invited. Being diagnosed early could save your life and make a huge difference to your treatment options.

Myth #7: If I get breast cancer, treatment will mean losing my breasts

FACT: Treatment might only involve removing a small lump from your breast.

Breast cancer treatment differs from patient to patient but may include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy. You can find out more about the different types of treatment for breast cancer on the NHS website. Though surgery is a common treatment option, it does not always involve mastectomy (complete removal of the breast). Instead, breast-conserving surgery can sometimes be completed where only the tumour is removed, particularly if it is diagnosed early.

Myth #8: Wearing a bra causes breast cancer

FACT: Your choice of bra makes no difference to your chances of getting breast cancer.

Some people believe that wearing a bra can increase the risk of breast cancer, thanks to myths surrounding the build-up of toxins due to excess sweat or compression of the breast. However, a 2014 study in the US of more than 1,500 women found that no aspect of bra wearing could be linked to a woman’s risk of breast cancer. The cup size, average number of hours a bra is worn, whether it was an underwired bra, or the age at which one started wearing a bra regularly made no difference to breast cancer risk. More recent studies have also found no evidence of a link between wearing a bra and breast cancer.

Myth #9: Deodorants causes breast cancer

FACT: Deodorants and anti-perspirants have no effect on your risk of breast cancer.

There are some claims that wearing anti-perspirant deodorants increase the risk of breast cancer. The theory is that preservatives they contain called ‘parabens’ have a similar effect to hormones which can be involved in the development of breast cancer. However, there is no evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between parabens and breast cancer. There have also been claims that aluminium salts, which are a common ingredient in anti-perspirants, can cause breast cancer by blocking the sweat ducts and preventing sweating. Again, there’s no good evidence to support this. Whether you choose to wear an anti-perspirant or not, there is no reliable evidence that makes a difference to your chance of developing breast cancer. UK law is very strict about ingredients in cosmetics and toiletries therefore they are very safe.

Myth #10: It doesn’t matter whether I attend breast screening or not

FACT: Breast screening could save your life.

Regularly checking your breasts is a good way to spot potential breast cancer symptoms. But breast screening can detect tumours in their earliest stages before symptoms appear, when they are often easier to treat. In England, about a third (33%) of all breast cancers are picked up through the NHS Breast Screening Programme.

Breast cancer screening saves lives. An independent review of the NHS Breast Screening Programme estimated that for every 200 women screened, one life is saved. This equates to approximately 1,300 lives saved a year in England, or around 100 in Yorkshire, thanks to breast screening.

Myth #11: Breast screening isn’t available to women over 70

FACT: Women over 70 can still have breast screening.

Women are automatically invited to screening between the ages of 50 and 70, but this does not mean that women over 70 cannot have screening. Women aged 71 and over are able to request free breast screening every three years by calling their breast screening unit. Find your local breast screening unit here.

Whatever your age, whatever your gender, whether you attend breast screening or not, it’s vital that you check your breast regularly for any unusual changes.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • A lump or swelling on your breast
  • A new area of thickened tissue in your breast
  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • A change in how your nipple looks, such as becoming sunken
  • A lump or swelling in either armpit
  • A rash, crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple
  • Puckering or dimpling on the skin of your breast
  • Discharge of fluid from either nipple

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your GP practice as soon as possible.


1) Feng, Yixiao et al. “Breast cancer development and progression: Risk factors, cancer stem cells, signaling pathways, genomics, and molecular pathogenesis.” Genes & diseases vol. 5,2 77-106. 12 May. 2018, doi:10.1016/j.gendis.2018.05.001