Debunking breast cancer myths

Teja Poosarla, MD is a board-certified medical oncologist specializing in the management of breast cancer at Inova Schar Cancer. She has been the principle investigator and has collaborated in multiple breast clinical trials.

There are myths around breast cancer that we tend to take as established facts. This may lead us to make certain decisions in our everyday life as well as forego the chances for screening and discussion with our doctors. Let me take this opportunity to separate truth from fiction.

Myth #1: Certain bras cause cancer.

There is really no indication or data to support this myth. A specific bra has not been associated with increasing someone’s risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The myth was brought about by a theory that underwire bras can cause issues with lymph drainage and swelling of the breasts, which could potentially lead to breast cancer. There is no evidence to support this theory. You are free to use any type of bra that you feel is supportive. Also, there is no data that going without a bra can increase your risk of breast cancer or decrease your risk of breast cancer. So far, we have been unable to find any real correlation between bra wearing and breast cancer.

Myth #2: Women with no family history of breast cancer are not at risk.

Unfortunately, even patients without family history of breast cancer can be at risk for developing breast cancer. Only about 10% of breast cancers are genetic or hereditary and a majority of breast cancers are non-hereditary. Risk factors for breast cancer include female gender, age, obesity, reproductive history such as age at first pregnancy, age at first menses, age at menopause and hormone replacement therapy. We recommend that everyone, including those without a strong family history of breast cancer still obtain screening with mammogram between the ages of 40 to 74. It is important to be cognizant of lumps or any other irregularities that could indicate breast cancer.

Myth #3: Breast cancer always shows as a lump.

Breast cancer may not present as a lump especially during the early stages. There are multiple ways that breast cancer can present itself. In some cases, it can be nipple discharge, nipple inversion or skin changes. There is a special type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer where the presenting sign is skin changes like reddening of the skin or skin thickness which can often be misinterpreted as mastitis. This tends to be one of the more aggressive types of breast cancer. Any changes in the breasts should alert you to get a screening and follow up with your physician to make sure that it is not related to breast cancer.

Myth #4: Breast cancer is more common in people who have bigger breasts.

There is no evidence to support that people with larger breasts, or any breast size, are at an increased risk of breast cancer. Increased breast density is one of the risk factors for breast cancer, but larger breasts are not indicative of increased risk for development of breast cancer. There is no correlation between size of the breasts and breast cancer. The important thing is that everyone, no matter the breast size, should be undergoing screening for breast cancer.

Myth #5: All breast cancers are all the same.

Breast cancer is quite complicated. Breast cancer prognosis and treatment options vary immensely. Depending on the type of breast cancer and personal preference, the treatments can involve surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or endocrine therapy.  There are multiple factors that are used to make treatment decisions including the location of the tumor such as the ducts or lobules of the breast, size of the tumor, stage and grade. One of the important factors that can really drive the prognosis of breast cancer are different receptors (proteins in or on a cell that receive signals) expressed on cancer cells that can help tailor treatment options. I always tell my patients that every breast cancer diagnosis must be very specific and personalized, and really cannot be compared to another person’s breast cancer.

Myth #6: Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer.

There is once again no data or evidence to support that antiperspirants or deodorants can increase the risk for breast cancer at this time. The chemicals used in these products are not currently linked to breast cancer. This may be a common fear with no support.

Inova’s Approach to Breast Cancer Treatment

At Inova, we try to offer patients comprehensive and tailored care. We take a multidisciplinary approach, where our patients meet with all appropriate team members including breast surgery, radiation oncology, medical oncology, pathology, genetics and cardio-oncology prior to deciding on a personalized treatment plan. We offer patients a team-based collaborative approach so that the treatments are tailored to their specific type of breast cancer as well as their personal preferences. We provide all care in the same location to make it very convenient for patients. Inova also provides free support services with Life with Cancer® that can offer holistic cancer care including support groups, meditation and yoga.

Make an Appointment for Your Screening at Inova

Get a mammogram – call Inova Imaging Services at 571-472-5400.


  1. Sunitha on October 13, 2023 at 8:06 am

    Very informative. Many educated too will be enlightened with this information. Thank for the same.

  2. J.B. on October 13, 2023 at 9:33 am

    Teja u r the “Animutyam” of ..Poosarla family. God bless you.Useful msg.tq…wish you good luck.

  3. Humera on October 25, 2023 at 9:03 am

    Very informative !! Thank you for explaining every myth so well.

  4. Sandra on November 9, 2023 at 8:50 pm

    Dr. Poosarla, I appreciate you listing the myths and debunking them with science backed information. Some of those enlightenments gave me relief to know the truth!

  5. Katherine on December 20, 2023 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks for this information, is always good to know.

  6. Rosario on December 21, 2023 at 8:34 am

    Just been told that a biopsy is needed, scary but I am trying to think positively.

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