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Breast Cancer Myths

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Breast Cancer Prevention Program at Texas Menopause

More and more people are taking responsibility of their health, taking adequate supplementation, eating the right foods and exercising more. Recent data is showing that gym memberships are at all time high since early 2000’s. However many women despite adequate diet and supplements are still developing Breast Cancer. In fact, Breast Cancer incidence has been increasing more and more since the 1950s.  Recent statistics shows that it can occur in 1 out of 8 women in their lifetime.
There is no question that a Breast Cancer diagnosis is a journey, a journey of fear and sometimes desperation. Even just the word Cancer, causes a gut reaction in women and family members. There are many myths out there regarding this condition and on this blog I want to explain what some of them are.

What are the traditional risk factors for Breast Cancer?
1) Late Menopause (after 55)
2) Female gender and advanced age
3) Family history of breast cancer
4) Personal history of cancer
5) Radiation exposure
6) Alcohol consumption
7) Not having children
8) Increased Breast density on mammograms
9) BRCA mutations and other gene mutations
10) Synthetic hormones and DES exposure
11) Obesity ( BMI higher than 30) or overweight
12) Early menarche ( having your period younger than 12 years old)

When I thought I was doing everything right but I still developed Breast Cancer
After following  proper nutrition, exercise plan, adequate diet, having a normal weight, having children and breastfeeding, some women still developed Breast disease. This can sometimes become confusing and extremely upsetting. We sometimes cannot understand how following every rule that we have been told regarding nutrition and adequate health and still getting one of the most dreadful diseases imaginable. This is when we have to think outside the box and outside of what traditional medicine tells us and take care of our health so we dont have to be afraid of cancer in the first place.

Breast Cancer Myths:
Myth #1: “Your hormones cause cancer”. This myth comes from the fact that there are types estrogen and progesterone receptor positive breast cancers. This theory has built the fear that our own hormones are causing the breast cancer. However women do not realize its not just your hormones that can predispose you to get cancer because then every 20 year old patient on the planet would get the disease.

Myth #2 : Hormone replacement therapy will cause you breast cancer.
This myth comes from the fact that there was a study that was stopped back in 2002 called the WHI (Women Health Initiative ) that concluded that women who received synthetic Estrogen and Synthetic Progesterone made from pregnant mares caused cancer of the breast. This study went viral and every doctor that was prescribing hormones , stopped doing so. Even after so many years since the conclusion of that study, and many arguments about how bad that study was designed, this theory still lingers in peoples mind and especially in the medical community.  In a nutshell, the study enrolled over 27,000 women for the Hormonal arm of the study, including obese women, postmenopausal women many years after the diagnosis of menopause , smokers, some with chronic disease etc. The study was stopped in 2002 due to the increase incidence of breast cancer in women using Synthetic Estrogen and Synthetic Progesterone with a medication called PREMPRO but not for those taking Synthetic Estrogen only (Premarin). The study was also designed with the use of oral hormones which is associated in the first place with increase in inflammatory markers and coagulation proteins in the body.

Myth #3: All breast cancers are caused by faulty genes or mutations and we cannot do anything about it.
This myth comes from the fact that there are certain genes mutations, called BRCA mutation that can cause cancer, however mutations in these genes cause approximately 5 to 10 % of all cancers. BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutation cause 20 to 25 % of hereditary breast cancer. In addition 70 to 80 % of Breast Cancers are sporadic or occurring by chance as a result of multiple insults to your DNA and genes. More on this topic will be discussed later and how to prevent those.

Myth # 4: If my mammogram is negative it means I dont have breast cancer.
Many women fall to this myth many times in my practice. They think that If their mammogram is negative on a particular year they can skip doing yearly mammograms or yearly clinical breast exam by their doctors. Statistics shows that mammograms overlook cancer in 1 out of 5 times. False negative rate of mammogram could be as high as 20%. So do not fall to this myth and have your yearly examination by your provider and mammograms as indicated. There are other modalities to detect breast cancer in addition to mammograms that will be explained later.

Myth #5: As I age, its inevitable to get some tipe of cancer including Breast Cancer
Aging and getting older does not mean developing chronic disease like diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis or even cancer. Most of chronic diseases including Breast Cancer can be preventable with adequate diet, nutrition, supplements and carefully avoiding environmental toxins.

Myths #6 Drinking a little alcohol will not cause breast cancer
Alcohol increases levels of circulating “bad” estrogen ( called estrone). It also stimulate hepatic metabolism of carcinogens, facilitates transport of carcinogens into breast tissue, affects cell membrane integrity, impairs immune surveillance and promotes formation of free radicals. Women who consume 3-5 drinks per day ( 30-60 gms) have approximately 41% risk of invasive breast cancer. This risk is similar for beer, wine and liquor. The relative risk ( the ratio of of probability of an event occurring) is 1.1 increase risk of one drink/day to 1.4 if 3 drinks per day. So you can see that there is not a big difference between drinking one drink vs three drinks. Be smart about it, dont drink!!!!

Myth # 7 Only if I become obese I will increase my chances of cancer
Being overweight and obese increases your chances of developing breast cancer. However, the new “type” of body called the ” skinny fat” can also increase your chances. These are women who are of average weight or even normal weight but carry central adiposity or an abnormal waist to hip ratio, meaning the circumference of your waits vs the circumference of your hips. In females this ratio should be less than 0.75. Part of a complete examination is having your physician to measure your BMI ( Body Mass Index) but also to calculate your waist to hip ratio. This is an important measure that can tell you if your chances of developing cancer and other metabolic disorders are increased.

Myth #8 : Working out for 2 hours at the gym is the only way of decreasing my chances of breast cancer
Physical activity appears to provide a protective effect in women which does not appears to be associated with higher levels or longer duration of physical activity. By physical activity we mean any type of activity that causes movement of the body and that requires energy. However, to be considered healthy, physical activity should be of moderate to vigorous intensity . Many people take this to the extreme and start exercising for 2 hours straight causing a hormonal imbalance and an increase in cortisol levels that again is not beneficial to your body. There is a fine line between adequate and moderate exercise and over training and causing cortisol imbalances and increase in free radicals that can lead you to the same condition you are trying to avoid. If you are one of this type of person that just loves doing exercise and dont know how to quit, find a physician who is well versed in the measurement of your hormones and test, dont guess.


So, after reading and understanding some of the myths that surround the diagnosis of breast cancer, how can you prevent breast cancer in the first place ? After doing everything I thought was right, eating right , exercising , not drinking alcohol, not being overweight I still developed breast cancer. Read my next blog:

Breast Cancer: when I was doing everything right or so I thought.  (Soon)


Breast Cancer Myths by Joel Rivera MD at Texas Menopause

Breast Cancer

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