21 October 2010

Think Pink: Busting the Breast Cancer Myths

About a year after my grandmother passed away, my aunt noticed that my pre-teenage cousin refused to drink bottled water or sports drinks; he adamantly insisted his water come from the tap or the Brita, instead.  While this might've just been a finicky adolescent phase, her mother's intuition told her something was strange here.

When my aunt asked her son what the deal was, he revealed that he'd read a warning on a MySpace bulletin about harmful chemicals in plastic packaging that were directly linked to cancer, especially if the containers were left in the sun for extended periods of time.  He also recalled that Granny always left half-empty bottles in the backseat of the car or in the fridge, and she sipped on them for weeks.  His innocent logic had led him to the connection that years of neglected Big Red and Ozarka bottles had killed my grandmother, and he was determined to save the rest of the family from a similar fate.

While this was a case of a child's naivete and a mother's consolation eventually got my cousin back to comfortably chugging Gatorade, this is not unlike situations grown people are faced with every day.

How many times has a well-meaning friend or co-worker sent you an email forward about "The Dangers of [fill in everyday appliance, chemical, grocery product]"?

We all want to protect our families, and when we hear reports of something being unsafe or harmful, we want to spread the word as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, though, those emails don't indicate who is reporting the information, where it's coming from, what research exists, etc.  We have to hop onto Google and look for some (reputable) resources ourselves.

On matters of breast cancer, I usually trust the Susan G. Komen Foundation or The National Cancer Institute. Below are a few breast cancer myths and rumors that I've heard, and the truth about them:

1. Plastic bottles can cause cancer:  First of all... no single factor has been proven to cause cancer, although some unhealthy behaviors and external factors may increase risk. The Komen site says: "Findings from laboratory studies have found that BPA [a chemical found in some plastics and coatings] can affect hormone levels in animals, although these hormone changes have not been linked to any harmful effects.2 And, at this time, there is no evidence to suggest a link between BPA and risk of breast cancer.

2.Usage of deodorants and antiperspirants can increase risk of breast cancer. This rumor was floating the internet for a while, and I cringed while imagining the new sweaty, smelly America I would have to tolerate for the greater good. Komen reports that there have been no conclusive studies that indicate that chemicals in these products can deeply permeate underarm skin and damage breast tissue.

3. Wearing underwire bras increases your risk, because the wires compress tissue, allowing toxins to build up. I'm not going to lie, a teen-tiny part of me hoped this one was true. I'm sure Victoria's Secret execs were quivering a bit, but I was ready to bring on the circa-1960's bonfires! A pair of medical anthropologists felt so strongly about it, they wrote a whole book called Dressed to Kill! Reportedly, there wasn't any solid medical evidence to back it up. I haven't read it, but I will check my local library. I am, at the very least, intrigued.

You can learn more about known risk factors at http://www.komen.org/, or even use this nifty risk-assessment tool from the Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool/ (it only calculates for women over 35, though).

1 comment:

  1. i would love to never wear a bra again! let me know what you find out about that last one ;)