Misconceptions about Breast Cancer

General Misconceptions

Q1: Is breast cancer incurable?

A1: Breast cancer is curable. The average 5-year survival rate of breast cancer is over 80%. If it is detected early, (i.e. stages 0 and I), the 5-year survival rate of breast cancer is about 98%.


Q2: Am I immune to breast cancer if I have no family history of breast cancer?

A2: The majority of breast cancer cases are not genealogical. In Hong Kong, although 15% of breast cancer patients have family history of breast cancer, less than 10% of them suffer breast cancer due to genetic mutation.


Q3: Does a lump in the breast mean breast cancer?

A3: Lumps discovered in clinical breast examination do not necessarily mean breast cancer. They can be benign symptoms such as cysts, fibroadenoma, etc. They can also be precancerous lesions or, indeed, breast cancer. Further examination/checking will help clarify the nature of the lumps. If you find a lump in your breasts, there is no need to be too worried. Consulting a doctor and taking a thorough screening are the key.


Q4: Is mammography screening painful?

A4: It depends on the person. In general, women will only feel slight discomfort, if not slight pressure. According to a HKBCF survey on 650 women, over 95% of them said mammography wasn’t that painful.

Women are recommended to undertake mammography screening in the first two weeks after their period since their breasts are less sensitive then. If you are worried about the pain, you can inform the technicians in advance and have the pressure level adjusted. You may also consider 3D mammogram. Its screening procedure is similar to 2D mammogram but takes shorter time, reducing the discomfort caused by the pressure.


Our Body

Q5: Do I have higher risk of breast cancer if I have larger breasts?

A5: Breast cancer has nothing to do with the size of your breasts. According to Hong Kong Breast Cancer Registry Report No. 10, around 40% of local breast cancer patients have a bra size of 34 inch and under. For breast cup size, half of the patients have cup B or smaller.


Q6: Do young women immune to breast cancer?

A6: According to Hong Kong Cancer Registry, the median age of breast cancer patients is 56, with 54.3% of breast cancer patients are between the age of 40 to 59. There are only 6.5% of breast cancer patients under the age of 40. Young women have a lower chance of getting breast cancer compared to their older counterparts, but are not immune to breast cancer.


Q7: Will women develop breast cancer after menopause?

A7: There is an increased risk of having breast cancer as women grow old. The higher the age, the higher the risk. However, the risk does not correlate with menopausal status. In Hong Kong, there are 39.2% of breast cancer patients that are over the age of 60. Having a late menopause (after age 55 or later) is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.


Q8: Will a women have lesser chance of developing breast cancer if she has been pregnant before?

A8: When a woman is pregnant, its menstrual cycle will be interrupted and thus stop estrogen from stimulating breast cells for a short time. However, this does not translate to a decrease in breast cancer risks. When a woman starts to produce breast milk, her breast cells enter again its usual cycle. During this process women will expose to regular risk of breast cancer.


Q9: Will I have a higher chance of developing breast cancer if I’ve had breast plastic surgery before?

A9: Level of breast cancer risks varies between different types of breast plastic surgery. There’s currently no scientific proof of increased breast cancer risks after breast plastic surgery using saline implants. However, plastic surgery through injection of Polyacrylamide gel (PAAG) can increase risk of breast cancer.  


Diets and Habits

Q10: Will oral contraceptives lead to breast cancer?

A10: There’s currently no scientific proof of oral contraceptives inducing breast cancer. If you are planning to take them for a long period of time, please consult a doctor and undertake regular body check.


Q11: Will antiperspirant lead to breast cancer?

A11: There’s currently no scientific proof indicating any correlation between antiperspirant and increased breast cancer risks.


Q12: Will consumption of chicken lead to breast cancer?

A12: There’s no proof of any correlation between food consumption and estrogen level in our bodies. However, we should avoid parts of the chicken that have higher fat content, i.e. chicken wing and chicken skin. According to World Health Organisation, overweight and obesity are related to breast cancer. We should be aware of the fat around our belly as they may stimulate our body into producing growth factor and lead to increased risk of breast cancer.


Q13: Will consumption of soy products increase or decrease our chance of developing breast cancer?

A13: There’s so far no proof that phytoestrogens in soy products will increase risk of developing breast cancer or breast cancer recurring like how estrogen works in our body. On the contrary, a meta-analysis study suggested that soy food intake was related to a decrease in risk of breast cancer in Asian populations, but not in Western populations.

It is recommended that women without breast cancer should consume more natural soy products in order to lower breast cancer risks. Breast cancer survivors can also consume adequate amount of soy products.


Q14: Will wearing functional shaping bra increase the risk of developing breast cancer?

A14: There is no evidence that compression of the lymph nodes by bras causes breast cancer. Inflammation in the breasts may cause benign nodule. But there is a low chance of nodule developing into breast cancer.


Q15: Can healthy lifestyle free us from the risk of having breast cancer?

A15: Of course, living a healthy life (e.g. being physically active, eating a balanced diet, not drinking alcohol, etc.) can decrease the risk of you having breast cancer. However, breast cancer cannot be prevented solely by healthy lifestyle. If breast cancer can be detected at asymptomatic stage, which in other words the earliest possible time, breast cancer mortality rate can be lowered. There are three ways of breast cancer detection: self-examination, clinical examination and mammogram.


Q16: Will it be hard for me to get pregnant after breast cancer?

A16: After the treatments, patients are recommended to take a break of at least six months before pregnancy. Some doctors even suggest that the break should better be up to one to two years. Their reasons are:

  1. During chemotherapy, some patients may experience disrupted menstrual cycle or temporary menopause. Women should wait until their menstrual cycle is restored to normal just so to make sure their ovulation resumes and their body is ready for pregnancy.
  2. In general, our body contains toxins (e.g. the chemical agents) as a result of chemotherapy and they may do harm to the health of our eggs. It is estimated to take at least six months to a year for our body to get rid of the toxins.
  3. Breast cancer is more likely to recur in one to two years after the completion of chemotherapy. During this period, patients are recommended to undergo constant evaluation. If you are planning on having a child during this period, please consult a doctor first.

According to research, young patients with average age of 30 or below are more likely to be able to go pregnant. This is due to that women produce more eggs before the age of 30, thus an easier chance of getting pregnant. For women who are over 40 years old and near their menopause (average age: 51 years old), they do not have as many eggs as they did at a younger age. Besides, chemotherapy may lead to temporary menopause. Although resumption of menstrual cycle may occur after chemotherapy, some women may enter menopause sooner.

There are a few options for preserving fertility before and during treatment, such as egg-freezing before starting chemotherapy.


Any queries, you should consult with your doctors or contact HKBCF for assistance.