10 Myths About Breast Cancer Survivorship

MYTH: Eating soy products after having hormone receptor positive breast cancer increases my chance of a recurrence.

FACT: Research on soy has been conflicting over the years. It has the capacity to mimic as well as block certain estrogens. Overall, natural dietary soy in the form of soy milk, soy bean sprouts, tofu or tempeh appears to be safe and may provide significant health benefits when it replaces animal sources of milk and protein. However, soy in concentrated forms such as pills, powders and supplements has the strongest potential for estrogenic activity and probably should be avoided by anyone who has been diagnosed with hormonal receptive breast cancer.

MYTH: If I tested positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, I must have a bilateral mastectomy.

FACT: Women with a BRCA mutation do have an increased risk of having a second breast cancer and many do choose to have bilateral mastectomies as a preventive measure. However having a BRCA mutation does NOT mean that you have to get a mastectomy. Women with a BRCA mutation are still good candidates for breast-conserving therapy and many choose this for their breast cancer treatment. Women with a BRCA mutation and any residual breast tissue need to be followed closely and are advised to have enhanced breast cancer screenings.

MYTH: My deodorant contributed to my getting breast cancer.

FACT: This is completely false! No evidence has ever been shown to prove this.

MYTH: If I’ve had a mastectomy, I cannot have a breast cancer recurrence.

FACT: Undergoing a bilateral mastectomy drastically reduces your chances of breast cancer recurrence since almost all of your breast tissue has been removed. There is a very small chance that residual breast tissue or cancer cells could recur on the chest wall. That is why it is important to continue with self-breast exams; see your doctor on a regular basis for examinations; and report any breast changes to your doctor.

If you have undergone a lateral (one-sided) mastectomy, you are still at risk for developing breast cancer on the other side. A yearly mammogram of the remaining breast is important to detect any potential breast changes. In general, no form of breast imaging will be recommended after a bilateral mastectomy—with or without reconstruction.

Note: Having a mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy does not reduce your risk of developing a cancer recurrence elsewhere in your body.

MYTH: Eventually, I will be able to stop my mammograms.

FACT: After a breast cancer diagnosis, yearly mammograms are still strongly suggested for the rest of your life unless you have had a bilateral mastectomy.

MYTH: I should eat an organic diet to reduce my chances of a recurrence.

FACT: Consuming a balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is always helpful to improving and maintaining your overall health. Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to eat organic fruits, vegetables and meats to limit your exposure to pesticides and hormones added to meats. However, there is no scientifically proven link between the consumption of non-organic foods and an increased risk of breast cancer.

MYTH: I had breast cancer in the past so I should not become pregnant.

FACT: Pregnancy after early-stage breast cancer has not been shown to impact breast cancer recurrence or survival. It is often recommended that you wait for some time after completing all cancer treatments (including endocrine therapies) before trying to get pregnant since your body has been through so much. There is no magic formula of when the best time to get pregnant is after you complete treatment. You should work with your doctor to make decisions that are best for you and your family. For more information, visit www.fertilehope.org or www.myoncofertility.org.

MYTH: Since my menstrual periods have not begun again and I am taking tamoxifen, I cannot get pregnant.

FACT: Even if your periods have not returned or they are irregular, tamoxifen does not protect you from getting pregnant. In fact, tamoxifen was originally developed as a fertility drug. Tamoxifen has the potential to harm the fetus. While taking this drug, you should be very careful not to become pregnant by using a non-hormonal form of birth control every time you have sexual intercourse. More about fertility and breast cancer treatment.

MYTH: I should avoid weightlifting activities if I have lymphedema.

FACT: A 2006 research study found women who engaged in moderate weightlifting activities were no more likely to suffer from lymphedema when compared to women who did not do any weightlifting activities. Keeping your body strong through regular physical activity (including strength building) is also a great way to reduce your chance of having a breast cancer recurrence.

According to the National Lymphedema Network, the following things can be done to reduce your chances of developing lymphedema:
  • Keep your arm clean and dry
  • Do not cut nail cuticles
  • Protect exposed skin with sunscreen and insect repellent
  • Use care with razors to avoid nicks and skin irritation
  • Minimize blood tests, shots and blood pressure cuffs on the arm where surgery took place. Wear gloves while doing activities that may cause skin injury (e.g., washing dishes, gardening, working with tools, using chemicals such as detergent)
  • Gradually build up the duration and intensity of any activity or exercise. New evidence suggests that moderate supervised weightlifting may reduce risk of lymphedema
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • If you have been previously diagnosed with lymphedema, consider wearing a compression sleeve when flying in an airplane and wear loose fitting jewelry and clothing

MYTH: Bone pain in my hips and knees must mean that my breast cancer has spread.

FACT: Thinking your cancer has spread is a very scary thing for many patients. The reality is that a very common side effect of aromatase inhibitors is bone pain and joint stiffness. This can be gradual over a few years or begin shortly after you start taking this drug. If the bone pain continues, gets worse, or interferes with your quality of life, speak to your oncologist.